Belfast Telegraph

NIO under pressure to reveal details of 'royal picture payout'

Angry: Lord Maginnis
Angry: Lord Maginnis
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is facing further questions over claims that an employee received £10,000 in compensation after complaining he was offended at having to walk past royal portraits in his workplace.

According to Lord Maginnis, senior civil servant Lee Hegarty was paid the money after he complained about the portraits of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr Hegarty, who had worked in the NIO for between 15 and 20 years, had allegedly claimed that under human rights laws it was unfair to him to have to work in a place where he was offended by such portraits.

Last year Mr Hegarty was promoted to become accounting officer of the Parades Commission.

Former Ulster Unionist MP Lord Maginnis, who last week raised the matter of the payment, said the portraits had been removed and Mr Hegarty was then consulted on what would replace them. He said Mr Hegarty's complaints led to the portraits being replaced by a picture of The Queen meeting the former Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Lord Maginnis, the former MP for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, told Parliament that the situation had been "shrouded in secrecy" and that the "quite scandalous episode" now undermined Mr Hegarty's role at the Commission.

His fellow UUP peer Lord Rogan has now tabled a number of questions at Westminster seeking further answers from the NIO regarding the payout.

He said yesterday: "Like many people I was amazed to hear that the Government may have paid thousands of pounds in compensation to a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office who was offended at the sight of portraits of Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip.

"I have now tabled questions seeking clarity as to what exactly has been going on in the Northern Ireland Office and I await the answers with interest," he added.

His questions include what criteria are used to determine which portraits are displayed or removed in the Northern Ireland Office and Assembly; whether the Government has received any reports that civil servants in Northern Ireland have been offended by portraits of the royal family in the NIO and if so, how many civil servants have made such complaints.

Lord Rogan has also queried whether any Northern Irish civil servants received compensation for offence caused by portraits of the royal family and if so, how many and how much compensation was awarded in each case.

The NIO did not respond to a request for comment when contacted yesterday.

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