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Commuters face up to six months in jail if they don't wear masks on public transport but confusion remains over who will enforce rule

'Distasteful' that pressure is put on drivers, says union boss

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It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport
Photo: Mark Condren

It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport Photo: Mark Condren

Passenger Luana Piovesan wearing a mask on the bus. Picture by Fergal Phillips

Passenger Luana Piovesan wearing a mask on the bus. Picture by Fergal Phillips

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It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport Photo: Mark Condren

Commuters risk a €2,500 fine or six months in jail for not wearing a face mask on public transport from today - but the new law is mired in confusion over how it will be enforced.

It is now an offence not to wear a face mask on a bus or train in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But the National Transport Authority (NTA) could not say who will be designated to enforce the rules at busy railway stations.

And bus drivers have been told by their union they are not compelled to take on the role of demanding compliance.

The lack of clarity over how it will be implemented is expected to lead to widespread flouting of the law.

Early morning commuters by train, tram and bus were largely heeding the mandatory face mask rule, with the vast majority of passengers traveling with face coverings.

While passenger numbers are still very low compared to pre-Covid times, bus and tram drivers reported a big difference in the numbers wearing masks today compared to last week.

One Luas worker who was recording passenger numbers and how many of them were wearing masks said that over ten trams she had surveyed there were 286 passengers and 280 of them were wearing masks, which is almost 98pc compliance.

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A Luas worker checks for passengers not wearing face marks before embarking 
Pic: Mark Condren

A Luas worker checks for passengers not wearing face marks before embarking Pic: Mark Condren

A Luas worker checks for passengers not wearing face marks before embarking Pic: Mark Condren

On buses around the capital it could also be seen that most, if not all, early morning commuters were heeding the mandatory face mask notice.

“I have been talking to some passengers and advising them about wearing a mask, and some have them in their bags or pockets and had just forgotten to put them on,” said the Luas worker.

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“Some passengers cannot wear masks for health reasons, and children under 13 don’t have to wear them,” they added.

“I think the message is getting through. While last week the compliance might have been 75-80pc this morning it is much higher,” they explained.

Bus drivers too noticed more people wearing masks.

“I think it’s society itself is dictating it. The health authorities and government can all talk about it, but the difficulty remains about implementing it. But it’s passengers themselves who, by their own actions, are swaying people towards wearing a mask,” said one bus driver.

“If you get on a bus now and you don’t have a mask, and nearly everyone else does, you might feel more inclined to have one the next time,” he added.

It comes amid ongoing concern as the number of new daily cases of the virus remains higher than in recent weeks with another 17 people diagnosed with the infection yesterday.

It means that in the space of just four days 90 new cases of the virus have been detected as the impact of travel-related infection and among young people enjoying house parties and pre-Covid style socialising takes hold.

The Department of Health, which brought in the new mandatory face mask rule, referred all queries on enforcement to the Department of Transport yesterday.

Earlier, Dermot O'Leary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) warned: "Frontline workers should not be put in a position of potential confrontation with passengers.

"We support the wearing of masks but it has been introduced without consulting with us.

"It is distasteful that pressure is now put on workers who were at the centre of supporting the public during lockdown.

"A bus driver was killed in France when he got into an altercation with a passenger over the wearing of a mask and we don't want that to happen here."

The NTA said the regulations allow for "any officer, employee or agent" to enforce the law but could not say what will happen if somebody buys a rail ticket at Heuston station today and does not wear a mask.

The Department of Transport, in response to questions, said last night that the Department of Health is the lead agency for Covid-19-related regulations and public health guidelines.

"In circumstances where a non-compliant passenger, without reasonable excuse, fails to accept the refusal or comply with a 'relevant person's' request, members of An Garda Síochána may be called to assist.

"An Garda Síochána will continue its graduated policing response based on its tradition of policing by consent.

"This has seen gardaí engage, educate, encourage and, as a last resort, enforce. That approach will continue in assisting the enforcement of these regulations.

"Where potential breaches of the public health regulations are identified, and where a person does not come into compliance with the regulations, a file will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a direction as to how to proceed."

The Garda press office said it would respond to a series of questions about the role of gardaí.

Under the regulations, signed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, people are exempt from wearing a mask if they have a reasonable excuse. This is where they cannot put one on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness, impairment or disability or without severe distress. They are also exempted where there is a need to communicate with another person who has difficulties communicating.

People can remove the face covering to provide emergency assistance or to give care or assistance to a vulnerable person.

It can also be taken off if they need to take medication.

A transport employee can refuse to allow a person without a face covering on to a bus or train.

They can also demand that a passenger must get off if they are found not to be complying.

Before this happens they have to give the passengers an opportunity to "provide a reasonable excuse" for not wearing a mask.

Meanwhile, a new poll today shows almost three in four people are likely to take a Covid-19 vaccine if one is found.

The Ipsos MRBI poll for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association found 52pc are very likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine while 21pc are fairly likely.

Almost one-fifth, or 17pc, are unlikely to get the vaccine while 10pc are unsure.

Over four-fifths, or 81pc, of people believe a Covid-19 vaccine will be found.

But most of those people, or 62pc, believe it will be next year before one is available to the public.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland


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