Drivers should not feel pressure to police new regulations making it mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport, the General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union has said.

The new legislation, due to come into effect tomorrow, provides for the compulsory wearing of face coverings for users of public transport to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

If a person does not comply, then a driver or inspector can alert gardaí. If a person then fails to cooperate with gardaí, they can face arrest and prosecution, which could lead to a €2,500 fine and/or six months in prison.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme, NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said drivers should not be left in a position where they have to police the law.

"The people I represent should not be put in a position where they are asked to police a law without having any recourse or contribution as to how it is going to effect them.

"I find it quite distasteful that pressure is now being brought to bear on bus drivers and front line rail workers. We do not have a place at the table where these decisions are being made."

The NBRU chief said he was worried, not so much about conflict between drivers and passengers, but about potential altercations between passengers.

"I predict, unfortunately, possible conflict between passengers, then drivers will have to call central control and the gardaí will get involved."

Asked about what resources would be required to police the new regulations, Mr O'Leary said it was "a bit late to be asked this with the law coming into effect tomorrow but I am sure if we had been at the decision-making table we could have come up with some suggestions".

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, said: "Mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transport will not only protect staff and passengers alike, but reinforce the need for all of us to embrace new habits during this pandemic. 

 "The wearing of face coverings in appropriate settings is a sign of solidarity to your friends and family, your health service and their staff who continue to be at the frontline of this crisis and solidarity to your country as we all continue in our efforts to suppress this disease."

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, said: "When wearing a face covering, ensure your hands are clean before putting on and removing.

"Do not touch the front of the covering, instead apply and remove the covering using the ear loops. If you require a number of coverings as you go about your day, store used coverings in a plastic, zip lock bag until you can wash them at 60 degrees."

Earlier today, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said on Twitter that he has been handing out face coverings in his Wicklow constituency ahead of the new regulations. "Let's all do our bit, we are in this together."

Children under the age of 13 will be exempt from the new law.

Others who will not be compelled to wear face coverings on public transport include people with trouble breathing, people who cannot remove a face covering without help, and people with special needs who may feel upset or uncomfortable wearing a face covering.