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Elderly/Disabled Access: Parliament Buildings

Assembly Commission – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 26th January 2009.

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Photo of Ian McCrea Ian McCrea DUP 4:00 pm, 26th January 2009

1. asked the Assembly Commission to outline what arrangements are in place to help the elderly and disabled get from the security screening facility to the front of the building.    (AQO 1920/09)

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

The secretariat goes to great lengths to identify elderly and disabled visitors to the Assembly at an early stage, and to ensure that appropriate arrangements are then put in place to guarantee a successful visit to Parliament Buildings. Those arrangements primarily entail business areas in the secretariat discreetly liaising with potential visitors, or their representatives, at an early stage of the visit-planning process. During that process, the precise requirements of groups or individuals are established, and appropriate arrangements are made accordingly.

We do not expect any elderly or disabled visitor to pass through the search unit and then have to walk, or push a wheelchair, up the hill. It is secretariat protocol that elderly or disabled people are permitted to bypass the search facility and access the Building directly through the east or west doors. The security staff on duty at the search facility will inform visitors of that procedure and advise those with mobility or other special needs that they can proceed by car or bus to the upper car parks. Occasionally, elderly people prefer to get out of their transport at the search unit and walk up the hill in order to access Parliament Buildings. We are, of course, happy to accommodate either need.

Photo of Ian McCrea Ian McCrea DUP

I thank the member of the Assembly Commission for his answer. Unfortunately, on at least one occasion, an elderly lady has had to stop three times to recover her breath when attempting to walk up from the screening unit. Can the Member give an assurance that that will not happen again and that the Commission will take the necessary steps — whether that is by informing security personnel or by whatever other means — to ensure that elderly or disabled people are not forced to walk up to the Building?

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

I am disappointed to hear that a visitor had such an unfortunate experience. Staff are kept well informed about the procedures. However, it is important that the visitor unit is made well aware, at an early stage, of the needs of any elderly person or those with a disability, and I can assure the Member that every effort will be made to ensure that that situation does not arise again.

Photo of Samuel Gardiner Samuel Gardiner UUP

Has the Commission considered installing a large lift for the use of elderly or disabled people, particularly one that would allow such people access to the Public Gallery, the basement and the first floor?

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

In fact, the lifts in Parliament Buildings were upgraded in 2005. Furthermore, last summer, a disabled person’s hoist was installed to provide access to the Public Gallery.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

I am sure that Members are aware that taxis sometimes leave people at the security screening facility, and then have to reverse to get back out, against the flow of traffic. Has consideration been given to the safety of that? Will the Commission consider the construction of a taxi turning circle at the screening point?

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

The Commission reviews that issue regularly. As we develop our outreach programme, it is important that we make Parliament Buildings as accessible as possible. We will consider the issues that the Member has raised.