A NORTH Belfast MLA has said her party will continue to support the abolition of hospital parking charges.

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín was speaking after the Department of Health launched an eight-week consultation on the option of re-introducing hospital car parking charges.

The consultation follows a direction from the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris MP, requiring departments here to launch public consultations on revenue raising measures. Income from car parking charges is currently used to cover provision and maintenance costs.

However, this was due to change from May 2024 when parking charges were to be removed following legislation passed by the previous NI Assembly. The bill was progressed through the Assembly by West Belfast MLA Aisling Reilly and will see hospital carparks become free for staff, patients and visitors.

Currently, parking at the Royal Victoria Hospital per hour is £1.60, the Mater Hospital is £1 and there is a £1.10 charge per hour at Belfast City Hospital.

Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín said: "This is yet another cynical Tory attempt to heap even more misery and stress on already hard-pressed workers and families.
"In the last mandate the Assembly voted, rightly in my view to abolish hospital parking charges which are due to come into affect in May 2024.
“At a time when public services are being further undermined and health workers are being denied a fair pay rise by the British Secretary of State, patients, workers and families are being asked to pay again.
“Sinn Féin introduced this legislation to address an unfair additional financial burden imposed on patients and their families in accessing health care and to end what is an additional tax on health workers going to work. We will continue to support the abolition of unfair hospital parking charges."

The consultation can be accessed from the Department of Health website here. The consultation period will run for eight weeks, closing on 9 January 2024.