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More than half of offenders refuse to pay fine as Garda emergency powers extended 
Gardaí issued just three fines for failures to wear face coverings last month, despite significant increases in the spread of Covid-19. 
The wearing of face masks on public transport and in retail premises is one of the few remaining Covid-19-related measures where the Garda still has powers of enforcement. 
People who refuse a request to wear a mask in these places face an €80 fine, or an increased amount if the matter goes to court. 
This week the Government said it plans to extend these emergency powers again until February. 
The number of fines issued for failure to wear a mask dropped significantly earlier in the year as Covid-19 case numbers declined and the vaccination programme gathered pace. In March 119 fines were issued. By July this had dropped to 14. 
At one stage the Garda stopped even publishing statistics, before resuming again after the recent rise in cases. 
The recent increase in cases has not coincided in an increase in fines. In the last three months a total of 12 fines were issued, according to Garda figures, including three in October. 
Sources say the main driver of the decrease is people being less likely to make a complaint to gardaí about the matter, rather than a change in Garda policy. “I think a lot of people don’t know the guards still have powers in the area,” one garda said. 
The latest figures also show more than half of people fined for Covid-19-related offences have failed to pay. 
Fifty-two per cent of the 23,131 fines have resulted in a court date being issued. Forty-six per cent of fines have been paid, while 1 per cent are still within the 28-day payment period. 
Just under 75 per cent of offenders are male and almost half of fines are issued on the weekend. People aged between 18 and 25 make up over half of fine recipients. 
The Garda continues to use the “4Es” policy in relation to enforcement of face mask legislation: “engage, explain, encourage and as a last resort enforce.” 
A spokesman said under the legislation, the initial responsibility in relation to enforcement rests with “relevant persons”, ie public transport and retail staff. 
“An Garda Síochána has been consistent and will continue to support and assist ‘relevant persons’ and ’responsible persons’ where required in respect of these regulations.” 
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