7 December 2018

Assembly Marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities by Offering Accessible Tours of Parliament Buildings


To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Assembly decided to do things a little differently this year by dedicating the day to providing accessible tours of Parliament Buildings for people with disabilities and additional needs.


A few of the participants that took part in the accessible tour pictured with Michaela Boyle MLA (front row, left) and Gordon Lyons MLA (back row, left).  


The accessible tour is just one of a number of initiatives spearheaded by the Assembly to raise awareness amongst disability groups and individuals of the accessible services available at Parliament Buildings. It was also an important opportunity for us to encourage local people to visit the building, take part in the tours and to find out more about their building and its political, social and architectural history.


The first tour of the day was tailored to meet the specific needs of those with learning difficulties. Delivered by the Assembly’s Education Service, the tour encompassed a small group to allow for greater one to one communication. It also focused on the use of accessible language and the opportunity for participants to ask questions, as well as the use of photographs and pictures to help tell the story of the Assembly and Parliament Buildings. 

Steven Agnew MLA speaks to tour participants in the Assembly Chamber. 


The next tour was specifically adapted for people with physical and sensory disabilities, focusing on the use of descriptive language and tactile aids to help participants get a better feel for and understanding of the building. A sign language interpreter was also on hand, as were additional Assembly Staff to help support those with mobility issues. 


The final tour was aimed at visitors with autism and was delivered and supported by Northern Ireland Assembly Autism Champions, members of staff who have been trained to understand the very particular needs of those with autism. The tour was again tailored for a smaller group in a less crowded environment and participants were given the opportunity to use the Assembly’s dedicated ‘Quiet Room’.

The Autism friendly 'Quiet Room' at Parliament Buildings.  

The feedback from the participating groups has been excellent and it is hoped that the accessible tour is something that we will be able to provide on a more regular basis in the future.  

Participants on the accessible tour learn more about the history of the Great Hall in Parliament Buildings.   

While Parliament Buildings is 86 years old, it has become a very modern space having undergone many adjustments to its physical structure over the years, including the construction of new wheelchair ramps, the fitting of electronic doors and the installation of a Changing Places toilet facility. 

As well as structural modifications, the Assembly has also worked hard to develop and sustain a range of initiatives aimed at making the building a more accessible and welcoming space for disabled visitors. 



In 2012, the Northern Ireland Assembly received an Autism Access Award from the National Autistic Society, for our work on making Parliament Buildings an autism friendly venue. 10 members of staff have been trained as Autism Champions, to be a point of contact and support for visitors with autism.

The Assembly has also been awarded the Action on Hearing Loss ‘Louder than Words’ charter mark, which recognises organisations that offer excellent services and accessibility for customers and staff who are deaf or have a hearing loss. Other initiatives include the installation of hearing loop, a Hearing Helper radio service and a braille tour guide and tactile map.

Assembly staff have also been proactive in seeking additional training opportunities to improve their awareness and understanding of the needs of visitors with disabilities. Staff have taken part in deaf awareness and autism training and a small number are now in the process of studying towards a level 3 certificate in British Sign Language (BSL), having already successfully completed Levels 1 and 2.

The Assembly is continually examining what more it can do to support people with disabilities and how to make their experience of engaging with the organisation as positive as possible. We have a range of equality policies in place and regularly consult with the Assembly’s Disability Advisory Group. You can find out more information here.

If you are interested in visiting Parliament Buildings but have questions regarding access or you require additional support, you will find a range of information on our website. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for or have a specific query, you can contact our experienced Events Team at events@parliamentbuildings.org who will be happy to help.  

5 December 2018

Assembly Commission Takes Platinum Award for Biodiversity


Taking care of the environment is something that the Assembly Commission’s Sustainable Development Office takes very seriously. Besides developing and implementing an environmental policy that includes all aspects of biodiversity, the Assembly has also taken part in the Business in the Community Biodiversity Award scheme and has successfully achieved platinum re-accreditation, the highest level possible.

L-r: Ian Nuttall, Head of Environment at Business in the Community presents the Platinum Biodiversity Charter Award to Margaret McClenaghan, Head of Stormont Estate Management Unit, Tom Wightman, Stormont Estate Superintendent and Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services at the Northern Ireland Assembly.   

The Business in the Community Biodiversity Award provides a framework for organisations to address their overall environmental impact. It also provides a mechanism for external recognition of the Assembly’s biodiversity management, as well as helping the organisation to foster greater links with environmental bodies, local business and the wider community. In addition, the framework also provides a range of environmental information so that employees can undertake biodiversity related actions in their own communities.

To be in contention for this prestigious accolade, the Assembly, in conjunction with its Department of Finance partner, was required to demonstrate the measures it has taken to improve and enhance its biodiversity and its care for the local environment. These include, signing up to be an Eco Schools partner and working with the many schools that visit the Assembly to highlight the environmental work that is taking place in Parliament Buildings and the surrounding Stormont Estate.



Over the past few years, the Assembly has encouraged staff to avail of sustainable means of transport and travel. This has included the provision of four charging points for electric cars and actively promoting the Cycle to Work Scheme.



But the Assembly is doing much more. In response to the decline in swift numbers in recent years, the Assembly has worked with the RSPBNI to attract them, and other wildlife, to the Stormont Estate. This has involved placing swift boxes on the roof of Parliament Buildings and playing a recording of their distinct call to attract them to the boxes.


As a partner with Business in the Community, Assembly staff take part in a number of volunteering opportunities each year such as the popular ‘Love your landscape’ days which has seen staff litter cleaning local beaches and helping community groups/schools with their gardens.

Staff from the Sustainable Development  and Building Services offices volunteer at Strandtown Primary School for 'Love your Landscape' Day.  

More information on the Business in the Community Biodiversity Award scheme is available on their website here:

28 February 2018

Young People have their say at Parliament Buildings Event



Education, mental health, community, social media and discrimination were all key issues on the agenda for young people attending this year’s Northern Ireland Youth Congress which took place on Thursday 22 February in the Assembly Chamber at Parliament Buildings. 

This special event, which was coordinated by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum and the Assembly’s Education Service, brought together over 200 young people from across Northern Ireland and was an important opportunity for them to have their say on the issues that matter to them. 

The young people gathered earlier in the day at the Stormont Hotel, where they were welcomed by the Assembly Speaker Robin Newton MLA who told them that he was looking forward to chairing the debate and listening to the issues raised. 

The morning session continued with a series of workshops and discussions aimed at helping the participants to prepare, select and word motions arising from the key issues for the afternoon debate in the Assembly Chamber. 

Following a quick lunch, the young people made their way up to Parliament Buildings, where after a few photographs and interviews with local media, they entered the Assembly Chamber to take part in the debate. They were joined by a number of MLAs from all of the main political parties, who had turned up to listen to the issues raised and to support the call for the future development of a Youth Assembly.   

The Speaker opened the debate by stating that he was delighted to be able to grant special permission for the Assembly Chamber to be used for this important plenary session. He added that such events were an opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and for the Assembly to highlight its continuing commitment to engaging with them. 

One by one, the young people put forward powerful arguments on issues such as the need for more resources to support young people with mental health issues; more education on cyber bullying for young people and adults; more funding for activities for young people; how young people are presented on social media; and discrimination in relation to the Irish language, LGBTQ+ rights and race. During an ‘open floor’ debate, other issues were raised including domestic violence, the constitutional question and the need for more support for young people who need extra assistance at school.

Following the debate, Alex Moore, a member of NIYF Executive Committee, made a statement about the need for a Youth Assembly in Northern Ireland. The Speaker assured Alex that he intended to bring the issue back to the Assembly Commission for consideration at its next meeting in March 2018. 

The Children’s Commissioner, Koulla Yiasouma, spoke at the end of the debate, congratulating the young people on their very passionate contributions and assuring them of her determination to work with them on the issues raised.  

As the Speaker closed the debate, he too thanked the young people for their eloquent, knowledgeable and considered contributions, noting that the standard of debate had been excellent. This was a sentiment echoed by the attending MLAs, as well as those watching the debate from the public gallery.  

14 June 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: Business Office


The Legislative Studies and Practice Programme was established in 2009 to provide university graduates with the opportunity to experience working in the Assembly and get a peek behind the curtain of political life in Northern Ireland. The Programme runs in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and is part of a Master’s qualification in Legislative Studies and Practice. Students contribute fully to the work of their placement office and use their experience to undertake original research leading to the development of a dissertation.

Now in its eighth year, this series is taking a look at the current group of students and finding out how they are adjusting to their placements in the various working environments of the Assembly. Having already heard from Ross Graham in the Bill Office and the students working in the Committees, we now catch up with Amy Maxwell to find out how she’s enjoying life in the Assembly’s Business Office.

Amy Maxwell


Amy studied History, Politics and English Literature at A-Level before attending Queen’s University to study History and Politics. With a keen interest in Northern Irish politics and the public sector, Amy was attracted to the Programme by the chance to work in the Assembly and gain valuable experience in a political environment. 

Every day is different at the Assembly and I have enjoyed learning about the procedural side of things. My colleagues in the Business Office have been very welcoming and made me feel at ease from the outset.  Currently, I am working in collaboration with a staff member from the Assembly’s research service to produce a paper on gender patterns in tabling questions. I have learned a lot about parliamentary processes, developing a sound understanding of the Assembly’s rules of procedure and what is involved in supporting its Plenary meetings.  For the Themed Report component of the programme, I am undertaking a comparative study into how the Assembly can work to encourage Members and their staff to use a self-service system for the tabling of written questions as is the practice in the Scottish Parliament. So far, I have conducted interviews with key members of staff from the Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly, as well as conducting a literature review on Parliaments and modernisation. It is my intention that this research will serve as a lesson-learning exercise for the Assembly.  The work I have undertaken in the Assembly has been wide-ranging in nature, allowing me to develop new skills beyond my academic studies and confront new challenges.  In the future, I hope to have a career in the civil service, or certainly one in the public sector. I think the programme, owing to the practical work experience it allows students to undertake, is a perfect stepping-stone to a career in that field and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate.  I also enjoy going for a walk each day during my lunch. It gives me a chance to take in the beautiful surroundings of the Estate!




10 April 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: RaISe


The Legislative Studies and Practice Programme was established in 2009 to provide university graduates with the opportunity to experience working in the Assembly and get a peek behind the curtain of political life in Northern Ireland. The Programme runs in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and is part of a Master’s qualification in Legislative Studies and Practice. Students contribute fully to the work of their placement office and use their experience to undertake original research leading to the development of a dissertation.

Now in its eighth year, this series is taking a look at the current group of students and finding out how they are adjusting to their placements in the various working environments of the Assembly. Having already heard from Ross Graham in the Bill Office and the students working in the Committees, we now catch up with Jessica Galway and John McCaul who are working in the Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe).


Jessica Galway

As an East Belfast native, Parliament Buildings and the Stormont Estate were a familiar sight for Jessica. After studying Government and Politics at A-Level and English and Politics at Queen’s University, Jessica gained a greater understanding of what was happening on her doorstep and a desire to find out more. The LSP Programme provided just the opportunity to gain an invaluable insight into the functioning of the Assembly and a chance to put the theory she had learned into practice.


John McCaul

John has studied Modern History and Politics at Queen’s University and, through the British Council NI’s Study USA Programme, also attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. John learned about the LSP Programme from previous alumni and was excited at the prospect of being placed in the Assembly and the chance to enhance his analytical, researching and communication skills.