“Clearly, although we are not present as a party on the Committee which put forward this motion, we have little problem supporting it in principle.
“We should commend the Minister for having started along the road to free parking, and having done so sensibly. Our objective should be to complete the journey – but to do so, of course, in a way which ensures hospital parking is free and available to those who need it to visit patients.
“I do wish, at this stage, to clarify that hospital parking is not an issue which should be seen as just another in a range of populist measures taken by this Assembly to justify its own existence to the public. Nor should we do it just because they are doing it elsewhere. Rather, it is a measure of vital importance to those using the Health Service.
“The Alliance Party is committed to a Health Service free at the point of delivery. That is not currently what we have. People have to pay to park to visit family members and friends; people have to pay for eye checks and teeth checks; people have to pay for personal care for older people. So, we would seek to put in place a strategy to reduce and, ideally, eventually remove all those charges.
“However, such a strategy cannot involve the removal of front-line health service personnel; nor can it involve any reduction in standards within the system; nor should it be focused, in the short term, on those who are not in greatest need.
“So, in supporting the motion, we do so on the basis that the removal of car park charges would form part of a strategy aimed at the ideal of a high-quality, well-staffed Health Service free at the point of delivery. That is a long-term project.
“What we would welcome from the Minister, therefore, is some idea of any costs to the Health Service that may come from the removal of car-parking charge, and an idea of a strategy which may assure the futures of key Health Service personnel while reducing costs to the Service users most in need.”