Stormont hosts first wedding ceremony for members of public
MORE than a year after it was vacated by warring politicians, a landmark 'act of union' has taken place at Parliament Buildings.
For the first time, a wedding ceremony has been conducted between members of the public in the historic seat of government in Northern Ireland.
In stark contrast to the tempestuous scenes which characterised the last days of the assembly, Fiona Keane and Saad Abbas tied the knot in front of family and friends in the Italianate splendour of the Great Hall.
More typically the backdrop for grave announcements from steely-eyed politicians, the grand entrance to the dormant heart of the north's democracy was transformed in a glittering banquet hall.
The pair met at university in England and now make their home at Greenwich in south-east London.
The bride, who grew up in east Belfast walking the dog in the grounds of Stormont, never dreamt she would one day be saying her vows in front of James Craig's statue.
"I live in London and I've been staying in my mum's just down the road," Fiona said.
"I grew up near and was always walking through it. Saad loves Belfast and when we decided on Belfast we were trying to see what venue and I was amazed when Parliament Buildings came up."
Despite having been granted a licence for civil ceremonies in January 2017 - the same month that the power-sharing executive collapsed - the Keane/Abbas nuptials are the first to be conducted there.
After the ceremony there was a champagne reception upstairs in the Long Gallery, while Stormont staff transformed the hall into a reception chamber.
"Because it's quite grand already it made it easy for us, as I live in London and am not able to get over that often so I didn't have to worry about decorating.
"There's catering and everyone has been so helpful, the staff have really gone above and beyond."
When Stormont was restored in 2007, only assembly members, former members and secretariat staff were able to apply for wedding receptions, religious wedding ceremonies and wedding photographs in Parliament Buildings for themselves or immediate relatives.
In March 2010, the assembly banned all wedding ceremonies not already planned at Stormont.
It had conducted a review of wedding receptions to introduce a more flexible policy and ensure there was no cost to the taxpayer.
The wedding of then Alliance assembly member Anna Lo was the catalyst for the decision to end weddings on the estate and at Parliament Buildings because the policy only allowed for Christian services.
When the assembly commission checked practice at the Scottish Parliament and Wales, it found neither Cardiff or Holyrood allowed wedding ceremonies.
The commission took the decision to end wedding ceremonies also, saying it "wasn't the primary function of the assembly".
Ms Lo is thought to be the last member to be married at Stormont.