Garda fines system for face mask breaches comes online

Gardaí told to give people several chances to comply before taking action

On public transport, a “relevant person”, has legal authority to tell someone to wear a mask. Photograph: iStock

On public transport, a “relevant person”, has legal authority to tell someone to wear a mask. Photograph: iStock

 

Gardaí are now able to issue fines of €80 to people for failing to wear a face covering in certain places, six weeks after the introduction of the legislation, according to an internal memo.

Gardaí have this week received a direction from headquarters that the payment system for on-the-spot fines for breaches of Covid-19 regulations is now active, allowing officers to issue fines of €80 per offence.

However, as of now gardaí can only issue fines for the offence of failing to wear a face covering. The fines system for other offences introduced in October, such as breaching travel limits and hosting house parties, is still not active.

It is understood there is reluctance to introduce on-the-spot fines, known as Fixed Charged Penalty Notices (FCPN), for these offences given the changing nature of government regulations over the Christmas period.

During Level 5 restrictions, gatherings of more than one household and non-essential travel beyond 5km were banned. Both restrictions are being relaxed this month.

Gardaí were advised on Monday that people are obliged to wear masks on public transport and in most types of public premises. There are several exceptions including for people who cannot wear a mask due to “physical or mental illness, impairment or disability or without severe distress.”

Fines should only be issued as a last resort, with gardaí told to give people several chances to comply before taking action. “Remember that enforcement should only be used when necessary and proportionate,” the memo states.

Gardaí are advised they have “discretion” on whether to issue a fine and do not have to consult the Director of Public Prosecutions or a senior officer beforehand.

Children under 13 do not have to wear a mask while children between 13 and 18 should be dealt with through the juvenile diversion programme, gardaí were told.

People will be able to appeal the issuing of fines and should be directed to the Garda website for information. As of Tuesday evening the website had not been updated to take account of the new fines and the appeal process.

The memo also details the differences in the law regarding public transport and public premises. On public transport, a “relevant person”, typically the driver, has legal authority to tell someone to wear a mask. They can then tell the passenger to leave if they refuse.

The Garda should only be called if the person refuses to leave or wear a mask. The passenger can then be fined for “failing to comply with the request of a relevant person”.

On the other hand, retail workers and others working in public premises can only “advise” people to wear a mask. They have no lawful authority to make a demand.

Gardaí can intervene if the person continues to refuse and can issue a fine for failing to wear a face covering.

According to the memo these premises include: shops, shopping centres, libraries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, bingo halls, museums, nail salons, hairdressers, tattoo and piercing studios, travel agents, laundries, dry cleaners, bookmakers, train stations and bus stations.

Two weeks ago the Government recommended people also wear masks in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where a lot of people gather together. However, these are guidelines only and breaches will not be an offence.