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Ministers and NTA report high level of compliance from passengers around face covering regulations

The AGSI’s Antointette Cunningham said this morning it shouldn’t be up to gardaí to enforce every single piece of the health regulations.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/PA Images

Updated Jul 13th 2020, 8:20 PM

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly and the National Transport Authority have said the number of people who are wearing face masks on public transport is “encouraging” and voiced their thanks to members of the public for following the guidelines. 

Face coverings became mandatory on public transport from today and the head of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) has said it’s up to the staff on public transport operators and the National Transport Authority to enforce the new rules in the first instance.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), however, has said it is advising its members not to enforce the new legislation. 

But Government ministers and the authority said there has been a high level of compliance from the public and are hopeful that this will continue, without the need for enforcement of the regulations.

“I would like to whole-heartedly thank the public for their ongoing solidarity and compliance with public health advice, including the wearing of face coverings on public transport,” Donnelly said.

“Wearing a face covering not only protects staff and passengers on public transport, it is also a symbol that you care about the well-being of those around you. ”

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan also weighed in today. “I pleased to say that the National Transport Authority has reported high levels of compliance across the public transport network today.”

Both unions and gardaí say it is not their place to ensure passengers are wearing face coverings on public transport. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said it’s not the job of garda sergeants and inspectors “to take over the implementation of every single piece of the health regulations” brought in due to Covid-19.”

The move to mandatory face coverings on public transport comes as more people begin to use such services again as the country has largely re-opened.

Under the regulations signed by the health minister, a “relevant person” may request a passenger to wear a face covering, refuse the passenger entry to the public transport service or may request the passenger to exit the vehicle. 

Failure to comply with these directions is an offence, but there are a number of exceptions where a person doesn’t have to wear one. 

The “relevant person” is defined as any employee or agent of a public transport operator or an employee or agent of the National Transport Authority. 

Yesterday, the NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said it’s “distasteful” to expect bus drivers and train drivers to police passengers who don’t wear face coverings on public transport. He said his union has always been clear on the issue. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, O’Leary criticised a lack of consultation between decision makers and frontline staff on the matter. 

“In relation to our members, we will not be policing it,” he said. “We will not be enforcing this legislation. It’s not our role to do it. A bus driver’s job is to drive a bus not police the laws of the land.”

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He cited the case of a French bus driver who died from his injuries after he was attacked by passengers over face covering rules. 

“I will never advise my members to put themselves in that situation,” O’Leary said.  

The Coach Tourism and Transport Council said today it was disappointed with a “failure” from government to consult with the industry on the issue.

The AGSI’s Antoinette Cunningham, meanwhile, said this morning that gardaí may be called to intervene but only when efforts from the public transport staff on the ground have failed.

She said that this rollout was another example of the government and ministers not consulting with the people who have to enforce regulations prior to their implementation.

Cunninham said: “Having looked at the statutory instrument – it says crystal clearly that regulations will rest with relevant persons… Enforcement in the first instance clearly rests with the operator.

It’s certainly not their job to be policemen, neither is it the job of sergeants and inspectors to take over the implementation of every single piece of the health regulations.

She added it’s really only when other other steps fail to resolve the situation that gardaí should be called to intervene. 

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Sean Murray

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