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 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.
The Executive or government is located at Stormont Castle. In March 1987, the main Parliament Building became a Grade A Listed building.
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. 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.
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. It was built by Stewart & Partners and opened by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), on 16 November 1932.
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.
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 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 concerns that the painting also showed the Pope, who had blessed William’s enterprise.
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 Viscountess Craigavon are buried in the estate grounds.
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.