Gardaí were given new powers late on Wednesday night to prosecute people who were found making unnecessary journeys, and informed sources said those powers were used from early on Thursday. Some people who were stopped at Garda checkpoints accepted their journeys were not essential and agreed to return home.
The new regulations state that nobody should “leave his or her place of residence without reasonable excuse”, including for essential work, health-related appointments or caring for vulnerable people, among others.
While gardaí were only using prosecution as a last resort, anyone convicted of the criminal offence could be fined up to €2,500 and jailed for up to six months.
As a significant Garda operation, consisting of more than 130 static checkpoints and thousands of rolling checkpoints, was under way traffic congestion was reported in some areas, with very long delays on the M1 close to the Border.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland reported that traffic volume had decreased in morning rush hour by 27-66 per cent at 15 locations it tracked, compared with the same day last year. The largest decrease was recorded on the M1 close to Jonesborough, where it declined 66 per cent.
“Car traffic volumes on the radial routes into Dublin this morning generally show a marked decrease compared with Thursday of last week,” TII said.
“Car traffic is down 9 per cent on the N7 at Citywest, and is down 11 per cent on the M1 at Swords to Dublin Airport, down 20 per cent on the M4 at Celbridge-Maynooth, and 11 per cent on the M11 at Bray.”
Separately, bus drivers have said there was “mayhem” on some bus services in Dublin on Thursday as excessive numbers of passengers sought to travel on services, their trade union has said.
The National Bus and Rail Union said its members experienced difficulties trying to accommodate passengers on services across a number of routes after the new 25 per cent capacity restriction under Level 5 came into effect at midnight.
The union’s general secretary, Dermot O’Leary, said there had been “several pinch points and locations where passengers have tried to gain access in large numbers to Dublin Bus services”.
“Some drivers are describing it as ‘mayhem’, as excessive numbers of commuters tried to board buses across a range of routes. Some Bus Éireann services have also experienced capacity constraints where demand has outstripped the Level 5 reduced capacity.”
“Thankfully (thus far at least) no confrontation or conflict has been reported, though we are extremely conscious that frustration can lead to such a scenario. We cannot blame passengers, striving as they are to get to their place of work, at a time which suits their particular needs, as opposed to when services may, or can, be scheduled.”
Dublin Bus did not comment on the union’s claims.
Bus Éireann said most of its services operated close to the revised 25 per cent capacity levels on Thursday morning.