STORMONT – THE PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS IN BELFAST
Parliament Buildings, usually 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 purpose built building, designed by Arnold Thornely, and constructed by Stewart & Partners, was opened by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), in 1932.
At the design stage it was decided to site Parliament Buildings at the top of a main processional avenue, giving it a more imposing position. The avenue was an integral part of Arnold Thornely’s original design and is widely recognised as one of the finest. Originally, it was to be lined with elm trees, but this was scrapped due to the fear of Dutch elm disease. Instead, 305 red-twigged lime trees were planted. They were planted in such a way to give the illusion that the trees are giving way to allow a better view of Parliament Buildings. Most of these trees now survive to this day, but unfortunately due to recent heavy storms a number have fallen. The Prince of Wales Avenue is commonly known as ‘The Mile’.
The Executive or government is located at Stormont Castle. In March 1987, the main Parliament Building became a Grade A Listed building.
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.
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 Northern Ireland 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.