Belfast Telegraph

Queen portrait not considered sensitive item in Equality Commission guidelines

But context of how it is placed could pose issue, says commissioner

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness shakes hands with the Queen in Belfast back in 2012
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness shakes hands with the Queen in Belfast back in 2012
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The Equality Commission has said a portrait of the Queen is not considered by it to be a sensitive item for display in a workplace in its guidelines.

However, chief commissioner Michael Wardlow said the context of how it was displayed was key and that it could possibly lead to causing offence and disrupting workplace harmony.

It comes after reports the NIO has removed portraits of the Queen from its Stormont House office.

Secretary of State Julian Smith has said he has a picture of the Queen in his private office in Belfast.

DUP leader Arlene Foster described the dispute as "beyond parody".

Last month it was claimed in parliament a senior civil servant received £10,000 in compensation after complaining he was offended by portraits of the monarch in the NIO's Belfast headquarters.

Mr Wardlow said in his experience, there had to be more to the matter.

Michael Wardlow said the Equality Commission had not been approached or offered advice to the NIO on the matter. But he understood the NIO had read the advice it has published.

He said there was a lot of advice on its website and it would be "normal" for his organisation to be approached on matters of ensuring a "good and harmonious" workplace.

He said he was concerned not all the information was known stressing he or his organisation were not involved.

"When things leak to the public," he told the BBC Stephen Nolan show, "they are never the full truth.

He continued: "In general terms, if you are asking about portraits of the Queen or anything else. There are a lot of employers out there that would love the Equality Commission to go around their building and to say leave 'that up or take that down'.

"There are lot of public bodies out there that would love us to take decisions for them that are equality laced decisions. But that is not the role of the commission.

"Our role is to give advice and guidance. To walk alongside these people, to help them take their decisions.

"This is what we normally do.

"We are here for support or advice. What we are not going to do is say you should take that down or put that up.

He said his organisation had identified some emblems and symbols which could be considered "sensitive" such as football shirts or paramilitary regalia.

He said a portrait of the Queen was not specified in that guidance.

But he said it could not then be inferred, however, that a portrait of the monarch could not then be considered as sensitive and it would depend on the circumstance.

"Context is everything," he said.

"I don't know where the portraits where. I don't know if this was part of something bigger.

"In our experience rarely do portraits of anything - whether it be a monarch - become an issue people raise.

"It is almost invariably part of a bigger issue where people feel there is a chill factor, or their community is not being represented or they don't feel it's a good and harmonious work place."

The NIO has said it takes it obligations under employment law "very seriously".

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