Belfast Telegraph

In pictures: The Queen portraits returned to walls of NIO's Stormont House office

Row: Queen’s image
Row: Queen’s image
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The return of a portrait of the Queen to the public area of Stormont House has been welcomed.

The pictures - said to reflect the work of the Northern Ireland Office - include images of the Queen with Irish President Michael D Higgins, Prince Charles talking with Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke while on a visit to St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh in May and another of a pipers playing at a ceremony at the Ulster Tower at the Somme.

A row erupted after it emerged last month that the portrait had been removed from the Northern Ireland Office's (NIO) Belfast base.

It followed claims that a civil servant had received £10,000 in compensation after he said he was offended at having to walk past portraits of the head of state and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

It is understood Secretary of State Julian Smith ordered a review into the issue after replacing Karen Bradley last month.

A source close to the Secretary of State said that Mr Smith was clear that he wanted a portrait of the Queen to be on display at Stormont House.

Mr Smith had previously posed with a small picture of the Queen in his office.

The Government confirmed that a portrait of the Queen is now currently on display at the Belfast office.

"A portrait of the Queen - our head of state - is on display in the public area of Stormont House alongside a balanced set of images celebrating and reflecting the work of the Northern Ireland Office," the Government said.

The controversy began last month after allegations that a senior NIO employee had received £10,000 in compensation after complaining that he was offended by portraits of the monarch in his workplace.

Photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, which have returned to the walls of a Government building in Belfast after its controversial removal. Pic: David Young/PA Wire
Photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, which have returned to the walls of a Government building in Belfast after its controversial removal. Pic: David Young/PA Wire

Lord Maginnis, during a Lords debate, said the portraits were removed and the man, who he named as Lee Hegarty, was consulted on what should replace them.

It was suggested that a picture of the Queen meeting Martin McGuinness could be used instead.

Later it was reported that all portraits, including of the Queen, had been "banned" and taken down at the Stormont House headquarters.

Yesterday Lord Maginnis welcomed the portrait's return, but said questions remained on the whole affair.

He said he would be raising the issue in the House of Lords once it begins its new session.

"I intend to follow this up. I think some of my colleagues have hooked onto this as well.

Photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, which have returned to the walls of a Government building in Belfast after its controversial removal. Pic: David Young/PA Wire
Photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, which have returned to the walls of a Government building in Belfast after its controversial removal. Pic: David Young/PA Wire

"I'm not the only one who is interested to see justice being done in this particular case," he added.

Lord Maginnis said peers were shocked when they learned of what had happened in the NIO.

"There was, literally right across the board, a concern and an undercurrent of anger that this could happen," he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said that she was "glad" the matter had been resolved.

"The Secretary of State has made the right decision but questions remain as to how the NIO allowed this situation to develop," she said.

Mrs Foster added that it was "deeply embarrassing for a UK Government department".

TUV leader Jim Allister said the portrait should never have been taken down in the first place, but he was delighted that it was back.

"I would like to thank the Secretary of State Julian Smith for expediting the return of the portrait to its rightful place," he said.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan said that despite the portrait's return, there was still the question of why it was removed in the first place.

He said: "I welcome reports that the Queen's portrait has been restored to its proper place in Stormont House. I am glad that some common sense has been applied. If, as it appears, this was due to the influence of Secretary of State Julian Smith, fair play to him."

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