Staff were not consulted on the name change and only informed two days before the plaque was unveiled
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots decided to rename a government building in honour of the Queen without consultation and despite recognition from his department that it could “raise sensitivity” for nationalist members of staff.
Last week, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affair’s (DAERA) headquarters in Ballykelly was officially re-named Jubilee House to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Last Wednesday, Minister Edwin Poots said it gave him “great pleasure to rename Ballykelly House as Jubilee House to mark and celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.”
However, a screening document — an initial assessment of whether a policy meets equality standards — published by DAERA and comments directly from the department make it clear it was a lone decision made by Mr Poots.
Furthermore, the document titled Equality and Disability Duties Screening Template, signed by DAERA officials, indicates that the Minister was aware of sensitivities associated with the name change but only informed staff two days before a plaque was unveiled to announce the change.
The DAERA document states: “This screening exercise recognises that there are some sensitivities surrounding the monarchy and The Queen as Head of State and that the renaming has the potential to raise sensitivity — though not exclusively so — for some identifying as having nationalist political beliefs.
“It is however recognised that this is a decision being made by the Departmental Minister to recognise the importance of the building as one of the Department’s headquarter locations and to celebrate the historic occasion of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
“The renaming is not expected to have a direct impact on the staff who work there, who as Civil Servants, are expected to be politically impartial, or on the services provided to users from the building.”
A DAERA employee who wished to remain anonymous told the Belfast Telegraph staff were not consulted beforehand and said changing the name was a “waste of resources”.
The worker said colleagues were content with the name Ballykelly House and believe changing it shouldn’t have featured high on the list of ministerial priorities.
On Monday, June 6, an email was circulated informing staff of the decision.
In the correspondence, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots spoke of seeking to leave a “legacy” at the department.
The employee suggested that a more fitting legacy should be centred around his core responsibilities for the environment, agriculture and rural affairs.
Trade union leader Niall McCarroll questioned the decision saying: “Surely with the building being publicly funded a consultation process should have been implemented?
“A process which would have provided an opportunity for all relevant stakeholders, including workers to have a say — this would be the bare minimum under expected equality standards and would reflect basic decency.”
A spokesperson for the Equality Commission said that Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, DAERA as a public authority must have “due regard for the need to promote equality of opportunity” between the nine equality groups.
“It also has to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion and race.
“Any employee can make a complaint of religious or political discrimination under the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order, and it would then be up to the Fair Employment Tribunal to judge whether or not the employee had cause for complaint.
“Equally, any individual who is affected by a failure of a public body to comply with its published equality scheme can make a complaint to us under Paragraph 10 of Section 75, if following a complaint to the public authority, the person complaining believes the authority has not dealt with the matter in accordance with their equality scheme.”
The Department’s Equality Scheme outlines its arrangements for complying with these obligations.
DAERA must balance its responsibilities and duties on any matter and decide how it will ensure it meets the commitment to pay due regard and regard.
A spokesperson for the Equality Commission said: “The Equality Commission has been advised today (June 9) by DAERA that a screening of this policy was completed and that it was determined that an EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment) was not necessary.”
DAERA published a screening document online after the Belfast Telegraph posed questions about the decision to rename the building.
According to the Equality Commission, screening provides evidence that the decision-maker has paid some regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, though “not necessarily the appropriate level of regard”.
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a DAERA spokesperson said: “The decision to rename the building was taken by the Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, with the announcement made to coincide with the Jubilee weekend celebrations.
“The renaming is seen by the Minister as a fitting manner in which to recognise the historic occasion of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and her 70 years of service and also of recognising the building as one of the Department’s headquarters locations.
“An equality screening exercise was completed in respect of the Minister’s decision and DAERA staff, including those headquartered in the building, were advised on June 6 of the decision ahead of the renaming event the following day.”