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Northern Ireland Office should be 'open and inclusive' says Secretary of State after portraits of Queen removed

 

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Secretary of State Julian Smith

Secretary of State Julian Smith

PA

Secretary of State Julian Smith

Secretary of State Julian Smith has said the Northern Ireland Office should be an open and inclusive place to work.

It follows a row over the removal of portraits of the Queen from its Belfast headquarters.

The development comes after claims in the House of Lords 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 Lords debate last month, 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 that all portraits, including of the Queen, have been “banned” and taken down at the Stormont House headquarters.

One politician told the newspaper only landscapes adorned the walls. Mr Smith would not be drawn on the specific allegations by Lord Maginnis, but said the NIO takes seriously its obligations under employment law. He said there was a picture of the Queen in his Stormont House Office yesterday.

“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.

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Portraits of the Queen have reportedly been removed from the NIO offices (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Portraits of the Queen have reportedly been removed from the NIO offices (Jonathan Brady/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Portraits of the Queen have reportedly been removed from the NIO offices (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“The NIO also supports an extensive programme of visits by members of the Royal Family to Northern Ireland, meeting many hundreds of people and a very 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 held this year at Castle Coole.

“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.

“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 claimed 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.

Belfast Telegraph