Jim Allister has said he feels “uncomfortable with the idea of a snitch society” after people were encouraged by a senior PSNI officer to shop neighbours ignoring coronavirus restrictions.
The North Antrim MLA was speaking after the PSNI set up a dedicated web page for people to report alleged breaches, as fresh restrictions come into force in parts of Northern Ireland.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd has urged people to use the system “sensibly” and to “carefully consider the circumstances” before contacting officers.
Last Thursday, the Executive announced more stringent rules around gatherings for parts of Northern Ireland.
They affect people living in the Belfast city council area, Ballymena town and postcode areas BT43, BT28 and BT29.
It means people from different households in these areas are not able to meet indoors. They are advised against travelling outside of affected zones to visit other people inside their homes.
No more than six people from two households will be allowed to meet in a private garden in the restricted zones.
Fines ranging from £60 to £1,000 could be issued for breaches of the regulations.
Mr Todd said a dedicated PSNI web page was set up earlier this year for members of the public to report possible breaches of coronavirus restrictions.
He said: “We want to resolve situations where the restrictions are being contravened without having to resort to enforcement powers or issuing fines and our approach will always be to Engage, Explain, Encourage and only if required, Enforce.
“However, where breaches do occur, we want to make it as easy as possible for members of the public to tell us while, at the same time, making sure that the ‘101’ number remains available and accessible to those who need to report a crime or an incident.”
ACC Todd continued: “I am encouraging people to carefully consider the circumstances before making a report, but I can assure the public that all reports will be considered by our staff coordinating the operational policing response to Covid-19.
“My message to everyone is that we all have a personal responsibility to follow the regulations and to do everything we can to stop the spread of Covid-19, protect the Health Service and save lives. We all have a part to play and make a difference.”
Mr Allister told the Belfast Telegraph: “Obviously I have no sympathy whatsoever with those people who put others in danger but I would feel pretty uncomfortable with the idea of a snitch society. I’m not sure it’s that becoming of a senior police chief to be encouraging that sort of conduct within the community.
“Having said that I think that the police do need to be proactive in terms of house parties and other events which I suspect are the real villains of this piece.
“As a general principle I don’t think people need that much encouragement to do the right thing.”
Earlier this week, a senior UK politician urged people to tell on their neighbours who break the rules. Policing minister Kit Malthouse said residents should “absolutely” call the police if they see neighbours holding gatherings of seven or more next door.
And on Tuesday Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would report breaches of the “rule of six” coronavirus restrictions.