Face masks compulsory on public transport from Monday but drivers say it's 'not our job to enforce the law'

Face masks compulsory on public transport from Monday but drivers say it's 'not our job to enforce the law'
A woman wears a face mask on a Bus Eireann bus in Cork city. Picture: Andy Gibson

The General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has said that its members will not be responsible for enforcing laws surrounding the wearing of face coverings on public transport.

Dermot O’Leary said that the NBRU has been calling for the compulsory wearing of face coverings since May 1 when it wrote to the National Transport Authority (NTA) on the matter.

It was confirmed today that new regulations on the compulsory wearing of face masks and face coverings on public transport are set to come into effect from Monday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that the regulations would be signed into law on Friday evening.

Mr O’Leary welcomed the announcement saying that the NBRU wants to restore confidence to people to return to using public transport and “not to be getting back into their cars and congesting our towns and cities”.

However, it is not expected that gardaí will have power to enforce the laws from Monday, although the government is aiming to give them the ability to do so and Mr O’Leary said that it is not the NBRU or its members’ job to “enforce the laws of the land”.

“We’re very strong in our view that we will not be policing face coverings and the wearing of face coverings,” he said.

Local Area Rep for Cork City Council, Peter Horgan, who had a “mixed experience” on a recent train journey from Midleton to Cork city and back, said that the mandatory wearing of face coverings “underpins the need for transport police” which Dermot O’Leary said the NBRU has been calling for “for quite a while in relation to anti-social behaviour which feeds into this issue”.

Speaking to The Echo, Mr Horgan said: “I think it’s about time that the Department of Justice and Department of Transport gave funding for even a pilot scheme in Cork of transport police where there’s a presence on commuter lines such as between Mallow and Cork and Cobh and Cork and on the city centre bus services like the 220.

“I’ve written to the Minister for Transport today asking to initiative a pilot scheme of the transport police here in Cork,” he said.

Mr Horgan said that people were visibly complying with the wearing of face masks on the train from Midleton to Cork city with “only around two people” not wearing any mask which gardaí on board “made a beeline for” but that “it was a different story from the city to Midleton” later in the day when there was “very little mask wearing onboard”.

“I think having the guards on the train did send a bit of a message coupled with the announcements from Irish Rail.” He said that having dedicated transport police “would mean not taking gardaí off their regular beats in a county town like Midleton or Mallow or in the city centre”.

“Once word gets out that there’s transport police or garda presence on public transport people will get the message and have the mask in the pocket and put it on,” Mr Horgan said.

NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary said that “there should be extra dedicated resources provided for the gardaí”.

“In this country what we’re very good at is tackling laws and legislation but we’re not very good sometimes at policing them.

“It could be a case that people may comply from Monday but in the last couple of weeks it has been very patchy in some places.

“Bus Éireann seems to have about 65% or 68% of mask wearing in some areas but in cities and in towns both on buses and trains there seems to be a very slow takeup in people wearing face coverings.

“People need to be aware that if they don’t comply with the law of the land then there’s consequences and if the gardaí were to be given proper resources maybe then they could police it,” he said.

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