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Bus drivers concerned about conflict between passengers over mandatory face coverings

There is some confusion around who will police new regulations that make face coverings on public transport mandatory.

People board a bus at Dame Street in Dublin.
People board a bus at Dame Street in Dublin.
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

THE GENERAL SECRETARY of the National Bus and Rail Union has said that it’s “distasteful” to expect bus drivers and train drivers to police passengers who don’t wear face coverings on public transport, ahead of new regulations coming into force tomorrow.

The NBRU’s Dermot O’Leary said on RTÉ’s This Week programme that the union had written to the  National Transport Authority on 1 June asking who would police new regulations that make it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings.

Yesterday on RTÉ’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra programme, Minister of State for Trade Robert Troy suggested that bus drivers would be responsible, before being corrected by a statement sent in to the radio programme by O’Leary.

Speaking on air today, O’Leary said that there wasn’t as much of a concern of conflict between drivers and passengers, though he added that may happen.

He said the main concern would be of conflict among passengers themselves.

The driver would then have to ring central control to report an altercation, and it will then become a public order offence where Gardaí may have to intervene.

When asked about drivers’ ability to not let people on a bus if they don’t have a fare, and whether face coverings can be an extension of this, O’Leary said that they don’t actually have any legal power to do this.

When someone made the decision many years ago to get rid of bus conductors, the onus on the driver to insist on a fare was taken away with that. So a driver does not have to stop a person without a fare it’s at the driver’s discretion whether they stop a person without a fare, that’s what the law says.

He said that although some of his members will “put themselves in that position” to refuse people who aren’t wearing face coverings on the bus, the union isn’t supporting the situation where drivers are put in that position.

He referenced the case of Philippe Monguillot, a bus driver from Bayonne in the southwest of France who was seriously beaten by passengers last weekend, and died this weekend.

He said that if they had been at the decision making table, this anomaly about how mandatory face coverings on public transport could have been avoided.

Background

The government signalled last month that the use of face coverings on public transport would become mandatory, following criticism that passengers on trains, buses and the Luas were not using face coverings while travelling.

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Previously, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had indicated that the National Transport Authority would have “the authority and the capacity to say to people ‘You may not come on if you don’t have or if you’re not wearing a mask’.”

And if people persist in disobeying then the Gardaí can be called. We don’t envisage that having to be necessary.

But on Friday, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said it was not expected that Gardaí would have powers to enforce the new regulations from tomorrow.

The compliance rate of people wearing face masks or coverings on public transport varies widely, from about 40% to 98%, according to National Transport Authority figures.

- with reporting from Stephen McDermott 

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