NIO must be inclusive, says Smith amid royal paintings controversy
Secretary of State Julian Smith has revealed there is a photograph of the Queen in his office at Stormont House.
It follows a row over claims that portraits of the Queen were removed from the NIO’s Belfast headquarters.
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.
Lord Maginnis, during a recent 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. Yesterday the News Letter reported all portraits, including of the Queen, had been “banned” and taken down at the Stormont House headquarters. One politician told the newspaper only landscapes adorned the walls.
Mr Smith, who took over as Northern Ireland Secretary last week, would not be drawn on the specific allegations by Lord Maginnis but said the NIO took seriously its obligations under employment law. “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.
“The NIO supports an extensive programme of visits by members of the royal family to Northern Ireland, meeting many hundreds of people and a wide range of groups from across all communities every year.
“The NIO has delivered 12 such visits in the past 12 months, including the annual Garden Party, which was held this year at Castle Coole.
“I also recognise the importance of the NIO being an open and inclusive place to work, able to attract highly skilled people from across all parts of our community in Northern Ireland.
“As an employer in Northern Ireland, the NIO takes its obligations under the Northern Ireland Act and fair employment legislation seriously.”
Lord Maginnis made the initial claims in a Lords debate on July 10.
He said Mr Hegarty was paid compensation after claiming that under human rights legislation it was unfair to him to have to work in a place where he was offended by such portraits.