Parliament Buildings (Northern Ireland)

Parliament Buildings
Stormont
Stormont Parliamentary Building 01.JPG
Coordinates54°36′18″N 5°49′55″W / 54°36′18″N 5°49′55″W / 54.604976; -5.831997
Listed Building – Grade A
Official name: Parliament building, walls & lamp standards
Designated13 March 1987
Reference no.HB26/13/013[1]

Parliament Buildings, often referred to as Stormont because of its location in the Stormont Estate area of Belfast, is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the devolved legislature for the region. The Executive or government is located at Stormont Castle.

History

Original plans

The scene at Stormont in Belfast, for the opening of the new Northern Ireland Parliament Buildings by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.

The need for a separate parliament building for Northern Ireland emerged with the creation of the Northern Ireland Home Rule region within Ulster in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Pending the construction of the new building, Parliament met in two locations, in Belfast City Hall, where the state opening of the first Parliament by King George V took place on 22 June 1921, and in the nearby Presbyterian Church in Ireland's Assembly's College. In 1922, a design by Sir Arnold Thornely of Liverpool was chosen and preparatory work on the chosen site, east of Belfast, began.[2] These plans were for a large domed building with two subsidiary side buildings, housing all three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial, giving rise to the plural in the official title still used today.[3]

These plans were found to be too costly, and it was decided to build only the Parliament Building, without the dome, in a Greek classical style and the foundation stone was laid on 19 May 1928.[4] It was built by Stewart & Partners and opened by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), on 16 November 1932.[5]

Finished building

Steps up to Parliament Buildings.

After the shelving of plans to build a "Ministerial Building'", the headquarters of government was in effect Stormont Castle, a baronial castellated house in the grounds and which was originally meant to have been demolished to make way for the "Ministerial Building". Stormont Castle served as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and was the meeting place for the Northern Ireland Cabinet. Another residence, Stormont House, served as the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland. The reduced plans saw the High Court eventually located in the newly-built Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast city centre, and two extra levels being added to Parliament Buildings to serve as extra office space required after the loss of the Ministerial Building.

The Great Hall, originally called the Central Hall. A statue of The 1st Viscount Craigavon stands on the landing on the Imperial Staircase.

Two separate chambers were provided in the finished parliamentary complex, the blue-benched rectangular House of Commons of Northern Ireland (green benches as at Westminster being considered inappropriate) and the red-benched smaller rectangular Senate of Northern Ireland. In the main hall, originally called the Central Hall but now known as the Great Hall, a large gold-plated chandelier was hung. It was a gift from King George V and had originally hung in Windsor Castle, where it had been a gift from German Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser's chandelier had been removed from Windsor and placed in storage during World War I. It was never hung in Windsor again.

A grand chandelier, with the elaborate ceiling of the Great Hall.

The painting The Entry of King William into Ireland, a gift from the Dutch Government to its Northern Ireland counterpart, was hung in the House of Commons when it opened. However, it was removed after having been defaced by a Scottish preacher, who had traveled from Scotland for that express purpose. The reason for his anger was that the painting also showed the Pope, who had blessed William's enterprise.

The building itself changed little over the years, even as the parliaments meeting inside it did. To camouflage it during World War II, the building's Portland stone was painted with supposedly removable "paint" made of bitumen and cow manure. However, after the war, removing the paint proved an enormous difficulty, with the paint having scarred the stonework. It took seven years to remove the "paint", and the exterior façade has never regained its original white colour. While most traces of it were removed from the façades (though having done damage that can be seen up close), some of the remains of the paint survive in the inner courtyards and unseen parts of the place.

Statues

The Lord Carson Statue
The Parliament Buildings in the background
Close up of the 12 ft (3.7 m) figure on a granite plinth

Additional changes to the building and its environs include the erection of a statue to Edward, Lord Carson, in dramatic pose (on the drive leading up to the building) in 1932, a rare example of a statue to a person being erected before death, and the erection of a statue to Lord Craigavon in the Great Hall, half way up the Imperial Staircase. Craigavon and his wife are buried in the estate grounds.

Architectural Fittings

Throughout the building, Robert Adams "Crown Victor" and "Sceptre Victor" [6]floor springs were used to control the doors.

Uses for the building

Prince of Wales Avenue heading towards the Parliament Buildings. 20 pairs of cast-iron lamp standards form part of the Grade A listing

The building was used for the Parliament of Northern Ireland until it was prorogued in 1972. The Senate chamber was used by the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) as an operations room during World War II. The building was used for the short-lived Sunningdale power-sharing executive in 1974. Between 1973 and 1998, it served as the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (N.I.C.S.). Between 1982 and 1986, it served as the seat of the rolling-devolution assembly. It is now the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In March 1987, it became a Grade A Listed building.[1]

In the 1990s, Sinn Féin suggested that a new parliament building for Northern Ireland should be erected, saying that the building at Stormont was too controversial and too associated with unionist rule to be used by a power-sharing assembly. However, no one else supported the demand and the new assembly and executive was installed there as its permanent home.

On 3 December 2005, the Great Hall was used for the funeral service of former Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer George Best. The building was selected for the funeral as it is in the only grounds in Belfast suitable to accommodate the large number of members of the public who wished to attend the funeral. Approximately 25,000 people gathered in the grounds, with thousands more lining the cortege route. It was the first time since World War II that the building has been used for a non-governmental or non-political purpose.

In springtime in 2006, however, the building was reopened for political talks between the M.L.A.s from the various political parties in Northern Ireland.

On 29 September 2012, the grounds were used for an Orange Order parade in memory of the signing of the Ulster Covenant. 60,000 people thronged the grounds after a massive parade through the streets of Belfast.

Security breach

On 24 November 2006, Michael Stone (loyalist paramilitary member from the Braniel estate in south-east Belfast) was arrested for breaking into Stormont with an imitation handgun and a knife, and scrawling graffiti on Parliament Buildings itself.[7] Initial news reports indicated that he may have been carrying a "suspect device". Later, between six and eight pipe bombs were defused by the Army.[7] The resumption of talks about power sharing and electing a First Minister between the parties at Stormont, which had only just resumed, had to be abandoned.