Parliament Buildings: COVID-19 Precautions

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland Assembly Commission – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 15th March 2022.

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Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 15th March 2022

7. Mr Gildernew asked the Assembly Commission, in light of the easing of public health restrictions, for an update on the measures in place to ensure the safety of visitors, staff and Members in Parliament Buildings. (AQO 3295/17-22)

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. An update on the current COVID-19 health and safety measures was issued to all users of Parliament Buildings on 1 March 2022. The update set out the current arrangements for ensuring the continuing safety of everyone in the Building. The update noted that all coronavirus regulations have ended, but it also advised that the Assembly Commission will seek to follow the public health guidance that remains in place. That is entirely in line with the responsible and effective approach that has been adopted up to this point.

The current measures to ensure everyone’s safety include encouraging the wearing of face coverings in areas of the Building that can become congested and suggesting that a distance of 1 metre be maintained throughout Parliament Buildings. Naturally, the use of hand sanitiser remains in place, as do the protective screens that have been in place for some time. The Assembly Commission is acutely aware that, in the absence of regulations, much of the response to the risk of COVID-19 infection is centred on personal responsibility. In that regard, the Assembly Commission commends the responsible approach adopted by Building users and encourages that to continue.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I thank the Commission member for that answer. Will the Commission continue to provide guidance and encourage adherence to that guidance to protect visitors, staff and Members in Parliament Buildings?

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member is right to urge a cautious approach because we know that the infection continues to be rife throughout the community, although, thankfully, the consequences are not as fatal as they were a year ago or even a few months ago. However, while the Commission staff can issue instructions to other staff, it is for the party Whips and leaders to encourage the representatives of the political parties to pursue a cautionary approach and follow the guidelines.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I concur with the comments about being cautious. However, even though we are in the last weeks of the mandate, for how much longer will the stationery office in the Building be closed to Members and their staff? That has been the case since the commencement of the restrictions.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for drawing that to our attention. I am acutely aware of that. As the Member will know, the Commission continuously reviews the guidance and does not second-guess the Executive. However, if there are issues with the provision of particular services, we want to hear about them. We will reassess that situation, make a recommendation and come back to the Member.