A summer programme of improvements to the facilities at Stormont will make Parliament Buildings more disabled-friendly, the Northern Ireland Assembly has said.
The assurance comes after Ulster Unionist Andy Allen complained that the body responsible for assisting MLAs with mobility difficulties was operating at “a snail’s pace”.
Mr Allen, who lost both his legs and 70 per cent of his eyesight while serving with the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan, also said ongoing confusion over Occupational Health disability assessments had left him in limbo.
It was revealed yesterday that the Assembly has tried to recruit a qualified medical practitioner for the Occupational Health role without success – meaning Mr Allen is unsure if he will receive an allowance to re-employ the driver he needs to carry out his constituency business.
“As a society we should be doing everything we possibly can to remove barriers from people actively participating in society, and I feel this is another barrier put in place,” he said.
Mr Allen said a lack of communication over the stalled medical assessments was a cause for concern, and that many areas of Stormont presented difficulties for wheelchair users.
“No one was advising anyone, no one was updating, and I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I still won’t know if I’m coming or going until I see [the Assembly finance officer]. I understand that any expenditure needs to be cost effective, but I think they’re going a bit far with the red tape,” he added.
Speaking on the Nolan Show yesterday Alan McQuillan, who is a member of Stormont’s Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) responsible for disability expenses, said he was “sorry this blip has happened,” but said he had asked for interim measures to be put in place.
He said that when the medical assessments were eventually carried out, the new system would remove the £10,000 cap on the disability allowance to provide a much better support system.
A spokeswoman for the Assembly told the News Letter that a number of “alterations and improvements” had already been made to Parliament Buildings, and added: “Proposals are currently being finalised with the design team and relevant statutory authorities with a view to undertaking the construction work during the forthcoming summer recess.”