MLAs out of touch as technical glitch causes chaos with Assembly phones
Some might argue that the folks at Stormont have long been out of touch with most people - but now it seems it's official.
A technical glitch has caused chaos with more than 1,000 telephone lines to and from the Assembly.
Staff, the media and the public have all had difficulties reaching Parliament Buildings over the last six weeks.
Now the cause of the problem has been revealed by officials. A switch to an internet-based phone system is believed to be responsible.
While a disconnect with the outside world has long been an accusation thrown at MLAs, the phone problems began last month.
Up to 1,250 telephone lines have been affected.
Officials said the problem should be resolved this week, and a temporary number has been issued for people who are still having trouble.
Assembly members have expressed their annoyance at the issue.
Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan wrote on Twitter: "Tricolour hoisted above Stormont for 10 minutes and whole place nearly fell apart. Stormont phones broke this two days and not a word about it".
More details of the phone problems were revealed yesterday following an Assembly question from SDLP MLA Sean Rogers.
In response, the Assembly Commission said the problems lay with a switch to an internet protocol (IP) system.
An IP system uses Voice over IP (VoIP), or internet telephony, to transmit telephone calls over the internet.
One of the key advantages to IP telephone systems is free calls - there are no fees beyond the cost of internet access.
The Assembly Commission said: "The telephone system in Parliament Buildings is provided by the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) but is no longer being supported as they have switched to an internet protocol (IP) system."
The Assembly Commission said problems were first identified with the telephone system six weeks ago.
The initial problem was rectified within two days.
However, the fault has continued on an intermittent basis, although not all numbers are affected.
The Assembly Commission said there were problems with approximately 1,250 lines, although this includes fax numbers, many of which are no longer used.
Mr Rogers said it had caused difficulties for MLAs.
"If you're in the constituency office and want to get through, you really have to go through a mobile phone," he said.
"It is a problem in terms of accessing research facilities, committees and so on.
"If we hadn't mobile phones we would be in real trouble."
Stormont's problems began after a switch to an internet-based phone system. It uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, which allows users to make free, or very low-cost, telephone calls over the internet. Users can call any telephone in the world and any telephone can call them. The system works because a user's voice is converted into digital information which can be sent like any other data over the internet.