T4. Miss McIlveen asked the Minister for Infrastructure, in light of the fact that social distancing is likely to be with us for some considerable time, whether she will commit to looking seriously at alternative types of shelter for the Strangford ferry, given that, in answer to a question for written answer on the provision of additional shelter for foot passengers, including schoolchildren, to protect them from inclement weather, she suggested that they wear suitable clothing, albeit the Minister probably would not find it acceptable for anyone close to her to travel around Belfast on an open-top bus in the rain and then go to school in wet clothes. (AQT 1044/17-22)
I thank the Member for her question. She has a keen interest in the Strangford ferry, so she will be aware of the additional services that we have put on to cater for schoolchildren. The mitigations and measures for the Strangford ferry were put in place following risk assessments, and, in line with the public health advice, we have liaised very closely with the Department of Health. I, of course, do not want to see any child heading to school in the rain, but the challenges that were articulated in that answer to the Member's written question were that we have to balance public health and safety needs against social-distancing requirements. There is also a safety element to a canopy being put on the ferry.
I assure the Member that we are continuing to look for solutions to the situation. We will continue to revise the mitigations for the ferry and other services across my Department in line with the public health advice as it changes and, hopefully, as we move through the restrictions.
As the Minister will be aware, residents of the Ards peninsula use the Strangford ferry as others across Northern Ireland use the bus to go to work. Will she commit to introducing a permanent 7:00 am ferry from Portaferry for workers, many of whom are key workers in the health and social care sector or in construction, who cannot get to work on time at the moment?
I can assure the Member that we keep the situation under constant review. If there is evidence of a clear need, we will do what we can to cater for our customers. As I said, we have put on the additional service in the morning for schoolchildren. She will also be aware that, using the blue-green fund, we are making changes to the ferry to ensure that particulates are taken out of the system, thereby improving air quality for its customers. We are therefore always on the lookout to see how we can improve our service.