'Images of royals do not bother me... Dublin Castle has a few'
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is not offended by portraits of British monarchs still hanging in Dublin Castle almost 100 years after partition.
His comments come after the Secretary of State Julian Smith last week ordered a review of the decision to take down similar images from the walls of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) at Stormont House.
The pictures were removed after a senior civil servant in the NIO was paid £10,000 in compensation for being offended at having to walk past royal portraits of the head of state and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Yesterday Mr Varadkar toured the Queen's official residence at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, where he remarked on being able to visit a "royal palace without having to get on a boat or plane".
As he visited Northern Ireland and met with business leaders to discuss Brexit, the Fine Gael leader was quizzed on the controversy.
He said: "In relation to the portraits, that's absolutely a matter for the Northern Ireland Office.
"It's not one for me to make any decisions on. The only thing I would say is that in Dublin Castle we do have portraits of British monarchs and we haven't taken them down."
"They certainly don't offend me," Mr Varadkar added.
DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson greeted Mr Varadkar as he arrived at Hillsborough Castle along with business and tourism officials including Niall Gibbons from Tourism Ireland.
Sir Jeffrey said: "I think what the Taoiseach said represents the common sense approach that I believe most people in Northern Ireland feel, that there is no need to go tearing down portraits off a wall.
"I think it's a tiny minority who make an issue out of this and we really need to get to a more sensible place."
Unionists have urged Mr Smith to reinstate the pictures, with DUP leader Arlene Foster saying it was "ridiculous" they had been removed.
UUP leader Robin Swann raised the matter with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Stormont House last week and said the Tory leader "looked puzzled" when told there is no portrait of the Queen on the walls.
It is understood that the portraits were replaced with a photograph of the Queen meeting the late Sinn Fein senior politician and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
But it later emerged that all the paintings had since been taken down and replaced with landscapes.
A UK Government spokesperson said the Secretary of State's review "will report in due course".
The NIO has not confirmed if Mr Smith has requested that the portraits be put back on display ahead of the review's outcome.
According to the News Letter, the NIO has declined to say who will conduct the review, what its terms will be, when it will report or whether the outcome will be made public.
Last week Mr Smith revealed there is a small photograph of the Queen in his private office at Stormont House, but the NIO has also refused to disclose when the image was placed there.