Following controversy earlier in the year Assembly rules were amended about photography within Parliament Buildings, which of course caused problems for organisations - many of whom were NIGAG members - holding events in, for example, The Long Gallery.
In yesterday's Plenary Session, the issue arose during oral questions to the Assembly Commission. Here's the transcript from the Official Report:
Ban on Cameras
4. Mr O’Dowd asked the Assembly Commission what steps it is taking to remove the ban on all cameras being used in Parliament Buildings. (AQO 3158/08)
Mr A Maginness: Arrangements for photography and filming in Parliament Buildings were revised on 6 March 2008.
Those arrangements stated that no photography or filming was to be allowed in the corridors or in any other area in Parliament Buildings — other than in the Great Hall — without the prior agreement of the Assembly Commission.
Subsequently, at a Commission meeting held on 24 April 2008, it was agreed that those restrictions should be amended. Accordingly, filming and photography will now be permitted in public areas of the Building, provided that the sponsor required was present at application stage and that this satisfied the criteria for the organisation of events.
Filming and photography are also permitted in accommodation relating to Speaker’s events and to Commission, Executive and Committee business. Detailed guidance, providing further instructions on the outworking of this decision, will be issued to all Members and to Secretariat staff at the earliest opportunity. The amendments to the rules were agreed to promote the strategic objectives of the Commission on the engagement of and outreach to the community.
Mr O’Dowd: The objective of the Commission to be open and transparent to the public is being hindered by those rules. If I saw someone taking a photograph in the hall outside a senior Minister’s office, should I report it to the Commission? I ask the Assembly Commission to review that rule and allow the media and the public full and open access to Parliament Buildings.
Mr A Maginness: The rules have been amended and the Commission will keep them under consideration. I note the point that the Member made, and I am certain that the Commission will attempt, in due course, to accommodate his points.
Mr Ford: Mr Maginness referred to the revision of the recent March rules with regard to photography. The March rules also included the requirement that events be authorised by three different Members, including one from each of the two principle designations. Has the Commission taken a view on the equality aspects of that decision? At present, members of the United Community Group require two signatures from outside their group — and from the two designations — while all other Members require only one signature from outside their own group.
Mr A Maginness: There was some discussion on that issue at the last Commission meeting; it was raised by a Commission Member and also in a letter from the Chief Whip of the Member’s group. The Commission will endeavour to address the Member’s points.
Mr Ross: During the period of the ban on photography and filming in Parliament Buildings, how many individual MLAs or Committees sought permission from the Commission to film in restricted areas of the Building?
Mr A Maginness: That is not a question that I can answer at present. However, the Commission will provide a written response to the Member.