With so many historic buildings being demolished or neglected, an assurance that the restoration of the single most important heritage building in the land is finally on track is a welcome reprieve.
“This building is huge,” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said as he toured the Red House on Monday. Though he was referring to the scale of the imposing structure – which is one of just a few buildings including the Hall of Justice and the NALIS headquarters in the heart of the capital occupying an entire block – the Prime Minister may well have also been referring to the cultural, social and historical importance of a structure that has become synonymous with our nation. It has been at the centre of historic events, was built on the site of a sacred burial ground and has served as a bastion of our democracy.
We look forward to the return of Parliament to the Red House by as early as next October. The State must ensure all the facilities needed to support the work of the legislature are also installed.
In this regard, it is important that work on the outfitting of Cabildo Chambers is also completed in time to coincide with the work done on the structure at Abercromby Street. Recognition of the stature of the Red House was signalled by the State deciding recently to permanently close off Knox Street between St Vincent and Abercromby Streets outside the building’s northern façade.
Following its desecration by insurgents during the attempted coup in 1990, repairs sought to provide two chambers to accommodate parallel sittings of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as Committee Rooms and spaces to enable Parliamentarians to interact with their stakeholders.
The State must ensure these remain a part of the restoration and that the related work is lasting.
While the International Waterfront Centre has proved a most useful location for the Parliament, there is no doubt that the Red House is a location that is more befitting the stature of the Parliament.
The Red House restoration comes at a time of significant advances in Parliament. Modern technology has allowed more efficient broadcast and streaming.
Additionally, Parliamentary procedure has undergone significant reform. The Standing Orders now provide a special Question Time for the prime minister; speaking times have been modified and a raft of new committees have been formed.
The committee system itself is something of a triumph in a society where there is so much concern over the lack of independent regulators.
Going forward the challenge will be to ensure the Red House maintains the same modern standards that we have become accustomed too, both inside and out.