Hillsborough Castle to be first royal palace in Northern Ireland
A "great historical error" is to be righted by the creation of the first royal palace in Northern Ireland.
Hillsborough Castle is our official royal residence since Northern Ireland's creation in 1921.
But the subtle difference will mean that the castle will become open to the public and held in the same esteem as the five other royal palaces – the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace.
Negotiations on the matter between the Northern Ireland Office and the Historic Royal Palaces charity emerged during a debate in the House of Lords this week.
And it caused some consternation among Scottish peers, who queried why Balmoral was not being similarly honoured.
Baroness Randerson explained that the new arrangements were intended to make it easier to attract both domestic and foreign tourists to Hillsborough Castle.
The NIO will continue as owners and it will also remain the home of the Secretary of State, currently Theresa Villiers, as well as royal visitors.
But the day to day running will become the responsibility of the Historic Royal Palaces.
Public access to Hillsborough Castle is expected to be increased when the agreement is signed next April.
Belfast academic and peer Lord Bew commended the move as reversing "the great historic error of the 19th century in not having a royal residence in Ireland".
He told the House of Lords he believed it could only have come about because of "the stability brought to Northern Ireland's constitutional status as a result of the Good Friday Agreement".
Baroness Randerson responded: "It is the stability of the political situation that has made it possible for the Northern Ireland Office to consider new arrangements for the management of Hillsborough Castle."
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey also welcomed the move.
An NIO spokeswoman said Hillsborough Castle currently received significant support from the taxpayer. She added: "Under the guardianship of Historic Royal Palaces it will operate on a more cost-effective and financially sustainable basis, reducing the cost to the taxpayer."
It's understood to cost just over £1.5m to run the castle annually.
Michael Day, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces, said it was delighted to be involved.
Hillsborough Castle is a late 18th century mansion house and a Grade B+ listed building. It was the seat of the Marquesses of Downshire and passed into public ownership in the 1920s.