Assembly to be packed ... but not with MLAs

Michael Monaghan and Anne Watson of the Pensioners Parliament
Michael Monaghan and Anne Watson of the Pensioners Parliament

Roughly 100-or-so people will gather for a question-and-answer session in Stormont’s main chamber on Thursday – but in a highly unusual move, only a handful of them will be MLAs.

The speaker of the Assembly is hosting an event which will see a large continent of Northern Ireland residents who are aged 60 or over travel to Parliament Buildings in order to quiz senior politicians.

They are drawn from the Pensioners Parliament – an initiaive run by charity Age Sector Platform – and it is expected that five political figures will be present during the event.

The main chamber is generally reserved only for elected members, and Age Sector Platform believes that it is only the second time that a group of non-MLAs has been permitted to use it (the other occasion being another event which it had helped to stage in October last year).

It is expected that Emma Pengelly (DUP) and Jennifer McCann (Sinn Fein) – junior ministers at the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers – will be in attendence at the session from 10.15am to 11.30am, plus the Department for Social Development’s Lord Morrow (DUP) and trade minister Jonathan Bell (DUP).

Paula Bradley (also DUP) is expected to be there in place of the health minister.

Michael Monaghan from the Northern Ireland Pensioners Parliament said: “Today we’ll have the opportunity to direct some pointed questions at ministers on more effective schemes to tackle fuel poverty, plans to end age discrimination, free prescriptions, operation waiting times and home care packages.”

The Pensioners Parliament is made up of roughly 180 over-60s who gather for a two-day annual session to pass motions and produce a ‘manifesto’.

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