High compliance with rule making face coverings mandatory on public transport
Garda association and bus union both say they are not responsible for policing regulation
A commuter wearing a facemask on a Dublin Bus during the Covid-19 pandemic in Dublin city centre. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins.
Members of the public are broadly complying with new rules that have made wearing face coverings on public transport mandatory, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has said.
Figures from the transport body show levels of compliance of between 70 and 95 per cent on buses, trains and trams with the measures, introduced to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Bus Éireann reported a compliance rate of 95 per cent on its services, Iarnród Éireann said it was 90 per cent, Dublin Bus reported a rate of about 80 per cent, Luas said it was between 75 and 80 per cent and Go-Ahead, which operates 24 bus routes in the outer Dublin Metropolitan Area, said compliance was at between 70 and 75 per cent.
Those found not to be wearing face coverings on public transport can from Monday face fines of up to €2,500 as well as a possible jail sentence of six months for refusing to do wear coverings.
A NTA spokesman said compliance was “positive” and “encouraging” and the use of face coverings “will play an important role in ensuring that those who need to travel on public transport can do so safely.
“This is something that passengers can do to help control the virus and protect one another.”
Confusion has arisen over the new guidelines with a garda association and the National Bus and Train Union (NBRU) both saying they are not responsible for enforcing the wearing of coverings.
Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), said enforcement rested with transport operators and the National Transport Authority (NTA).
However, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has said its members will not be policing mandatory face coverings either.
Under the regulations a bus driver or other relevant person can request that a passenger wear a face covering. They can ask them to leave a vehicle if they are not wearing one, or refuse them entry. If a person does not comply, and does not have a reasonable excuse, gardaí could be called.
Ms Cunningham earlier said the statutory instrument introducing the regulations ensures enforcement rests with the transport operator.
While she acknowledged it was not a bus driver’s job to police the law, she said it was not the job of the gardaí to check up on people using public transport.
The regulations were clear, she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, and if a driver asked a person to wear the mask and they refused, then gardaí would assist.
“The relevant person has to act in the first instance. When all those fail, we will then assist if required.”
NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said it is not the role of bus or train drivers to enforce the rules as the role of its members was “to drive not to police the law of the land”.
Mr O’Leary told RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney programme that the confusion showed there was a need for a public transport police unit, as found in some other countries.
“The people who make laws should speak to the people who they expect to implement them, in this case the gardaí and resource the gardaí. There has been no consultation here,” he said.
The NTA said it was up to transport operators to implement face coverings as they do for the “implementation of many other rules and bye-laws across the public transport area. The NTA is engaging with operators about implementation.”
The representative body for private bus and coach operators, the Coach Tourism and Transport Council, said its members were “disappointed” the Government did not engage with the sector.
The council’s chairman John Halpenny said its members carry 70 million passengers a year and want to comply with public health regulations.
“Instead, we have no clarity regarding our legal obligations or our potential exposure but instead are appraised of the changes through the media,” he said.
“Operating in such a legal lacunae has very real and obvious consequences going by the needless death of a bus driver who was involved in a serious confrontation with passengers over their failure to wear facemasks in France in the past few days.”