Non-wearers of masks on public transport face fine and jail sentence
Drivers say they expect gardaí to police measure which takes effect from Monday
Taoiseach Micheál Martin: “This is a very dangerous virus, it can damage people’s health for a very long time in some instances. It’s not something to be taken lightly.” Photograph: Alan Betson
People who fail to comply with mandatory rules on face coverings on public transport could face up to six months in prison and a fine of €2,500 from Monday.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed on Friday that regulations were being signed to make the wearing of face masks on public transport obligatory,
Under the new rules, gardaí can be called to enforce if someone fails to wear a face covering. If they continue not to co-operate, they can face arrest and prosecution, with a penalty for a conviction of up to €2,500 fine and/or six months in jail.
“Outside of the public transport sector, we encourage people to wear masks in crowded indoor gatherings and again where social distancing is not possible, but it will be compulsory on public transport as and from Monday,” Mr Martin said.
The Taoiseach said he believed people would comply with the new rules without the need for gardaí to enforce their power.
“If you look back on our entire experience throughout Covid-19 it has been really developing compliance, engagement and people have come with us on that journey and come with the authorities,” he said.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) welcomed the move, which it said it had been seeking for some time.
However, NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said his members would not be policing the mandatory wearing of face coverings. He said if a dispute arose over the non-wearing of masks, transport staff would contact the control centre to call gardaí to the scene.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Friday signed the regulations, which are set out as the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (Face Coverings on Public Transport) Regulations 2020.
They provide that, from Monday , members of the public shall not, without reasonable excuse, travel by public transport without wearing a face covering.
Reasonable excuse includes where a person:
- cannot put one on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness, impairment or disability or without severe distress;
- needs to communicate with another person who has difficulties communicating;
- removes the face covering to provide emergency assistance or to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person; or
- removes the face covering to take medication.
The regulations do not apply to children under the age of 13.
Where a passenger is not wearing a face covering, a “relevant person” under the regulations may request the passenger to wear a face covering, refuse the passenger entry to the public transport vehicle, or may request the passenger to alight from the vehicle.
A passenger must comply with these requests or with a refusal of entry. Failure to comply is an offence.
On Friday, Mr Martin also emphasised concerns around overseas travel and indoor gatherings causing an increased spread of the virus.
Asked about the opening-up of Northern Ireland to travel, he said public health officials remain “very concerned about the potential of travel and the reopening of travel to impact negatively on the transmission of the virus.
“We will be taking it on board and we will be meeting with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister next week and we will discuss these issues,” he said.
“Ideally an all-island approach to these issues is optimal; there are challenges in that regard obviously, but our public health officials are not comfortable to say the least in terms of the transmission.”
He praised the population for its compliance with the public health guidelines and rules which have been instituted during the crisis, and acknowledged that recent months had been challenging for young people in particular, given the rescheduling of the Leaving Cert and the curtailment of normal social life.
“This is a very dangerous virus, it can damage people’s health for a very long time in some instances. It’s not something to be taken lightly,” he said. “We all have a personal responsibility in relation to stopping the spread of this virus.
“The same advice applies to young people as everyone else. The indoor gatherings are a problem. Overcrowded house parties are a problem. Nobody is invincible, this is a very dangerous virus.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also encouraged people to abide by the advice over the weekend. “People have had to stay at home for a long time, and when everyone started going out again it rained on us for about three weeks. And it’s sunny.
“So, go out and have a good time. People need to have a good time, but please, please, please maintain social distancing.”
Mr Martin also paid tribute to Health Service Executive staff, saying he had thanked them on behalf of the Irish people “for the extraordinary work they have done on the front line to combat Covid-19”.