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NI Secretary reveals there is a picture of Queen in his office at Stormont House

Julian Smith was speaking after it emerged that a portrait of the Queen was previously removed from the Northern Ireland Office base in Belfast.

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Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has revealed there is a portrait of the Queen in his office at Stormont House (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has revealed there is a portrait of the Queen in his office at Stormont House (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has revealed there is a portrait of the Queen in his office at Stormont House (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Northern Ireland Secretary has revealed there is a picture of the Queen in his office at Stormont House.

Julian Smith was speaking after it emerged that a portrait of the monarch was previously removed from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) base in Belfast after compensation was paid to a civil servant over it.

Earlier this year, Lord Maginnis told the House of Lords that a civil servant had been paid £10,000 in compensation for being offended at having to walk past portraits of the head of state and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

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The Queen at Buckingham Palace earlier this year (PA)

The Queen at Buckingham Palace earlier this year (PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

The Queen at Buckingham Palace earlier this year (PA)

In a statement, Mr Smith said there is a picture of the Queen in his office.

“I was delighted to see a picture of Her Majesty in my office when I arrived at Stormont House for the first time,” he said.

“There are also many pictures and portraits of Her Majesty, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family on public display at Hillsborough Castle.”

Mr Smith added: “I also recognise the importance of the Northern Ireland Office being an open and inclusive place to work, able to attract highly-skilled people from across all parts of our community in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“As an employer in Northern Ireland, the NIO takes its obligations under the Northern Ireland Act and Fair Employment legislation seriously.”

Earlier, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann raised the removal of the Queen’s portrait from Stormont House with the Prime Minister.

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Ulster Unionist Lord Empey (PA)

Ulster Unionist Lord Empey (PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Ulster Unionist Lord Empey (PA)

Lord Empey, who was among the Ulster Unionist delegation, told PA: “He immediately looked puzzled and looked around in each direction for some guidance from officials on either side of him. One intervened with a comment about it being a personnel issue.

“He clearly wasn’t aware of it … he was clearly a bit surprised, is how I would put it.

“There was no definitive response from him but the matter has been squarely laid on the table and we shall see what emerges.

“I think both he and the new Secretary of State will be on a steep learning curve to understand the nuances of Northern Ireland.”

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Boris Johnson with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Boris Johnson with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Press Association Images

Boris Johnson with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Lord Empey said he “does not think it is unreasonable” for a portrait of the head of state to hang on the walls of a Government department.

“This case goes back to 2012, it was actually secretary of state Theresa Villiers who was in office when the case was settled, so it’s not a new issue, but we made the very simple point that while respecting of course the fact that people here have different identities and aspirations, nevertheless if you are working in a UK Government department, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see at some stage a photograph of the head of state,” he said.

“Indeed if you go into any American office or an agency anywhere in the States or here, you’ll see a photograph of the president and a vice president of the day, and I can imagine there are people who are maybe not terribly comfortable with portraits of President Trump behind them.

“If you go into the Irish embassy in London you see a portrait of President Higgins, and quite rightly.

“So it’s not as if there is anything spectacularly new about it, or different, but I’m just making the point, given it’s a UK Government department, and Stormont House is part of the Northern Ireland Office which is a Whitehall department, I would have thought it not unreasonable that you would expect to see a portrait of the head of state.

“I think many people would have been shocked that the story – which was initially revealed by Lord Maginnis at Parliament, and subsequently by my colleague Lord Rogan, who asked questions and didn’t get particularly helpful answers – that this matter has arisen at all. It’s rather bizarre, to put it mildly.

“We will be pursing the matter.”

In a parliamentary question response published on Wednesday, Lord Duncan said there are royal portraits at the NIO’s London office.

“Royal portraits hang on public display at Hillsborough Castle, and also in the London office occupied by the Northern Ireland Office,” he said in response to a question from Lord Rogan.

PA