Northern Ireland news

Shopping your neighbour for Covid breaches 'uncomfortable but necessary' - MLA

The PSNI received more than 12,100 Covid-related reports between March and September.
Ryan McAleer

REPORTING neighbours breaching Covid-19 regulations is an uncomfortable but necessary part of the efforts to curb the pandemic, an Alliance Party MLA has said.

Data obtained by The Irish News revealed how the PSNI’s online complaint system has been used to report everything from serious breaches to mobile dog groomers and one man’s daily visits to his “lady friend” in Ballymena.

The log, obtained by a freedom of information request, covered the 24-hour period from 2pm on April 10, following the launch of the PSNI's dedicated online reporting tool at the height of the lockdown.

It included reports of children playing together on a Belfast GAA pitch and an Ahoghill resident taking “multiple walks each day”.

Another Co Antrim resident shopped their neighbour for having five cars outside their house on Mother’s Day.

More than 12,100 Covid-related reports have been received by police in Northern Ireland between March and September 23, including both calls and online reports.

Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw admitted her party was not entirely comfortable with the measures.

"Nothing about the situation is normal and the Alliance Party is a liberal party and so restrictions on people's freedom of movement doesn't sit very easily with us," she said.

But she said the reporting tool remained an important part of the efforts to curb community transmission of the virus.

"When people are obviously flouting the regulations and restrictions then I think it's right and proper that people have a mechanism by which to report that. It's a valuable part of the jigsaw of trying to get the rate of infection back down again.

"We can't put a policeman, an environmental officer or a council worker on every street corner."

The south Belfast MLA said residents in the Holy Lands area had been left little option but to report significant breaches in recent months

"There were serious breaches, 30 to 40 people piling into houses. There has to be a mechanism there that filters those sort of complaints into one category," she added.

"We're trying to fight this virus, especially coming up to Christmas and I think it's timely reminder to people that it is there and if people are on the wrong side of the law then there's the potential that they could be reported."

SDLP health spokesman Colin McGrath said it was easy to understand why people could become annoyed by neighbours breaching regulations.

"If people have been through coronavirus themselves, or had family members suffer with it, or they have been self-isolating, they're going to be understandably annoyed if they see people just breaking the rules," he said.

"If the rules and guidelines are there and people break them, then they should have to deal with the consequences of that."

The PSNI has said all reports of breaches would be considered, but encouraged the public to use its online reporting tool "sensibly".

Sinn Féin health spokesman Colm Gildernew said: "Everyone has a part to play in ensuring they follow the regulations and act responsibly to protect others.

"This means washing your hands, practising social distancing, wearing a face covering where appropriate and following the guidelines in order to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the wider community."

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