Belfast Telegraph

Smith launches internal review into decision to remove royal portraits on display at NIO

Secretary of State Julian Smith
Secretary of State Julian Smith
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The Secretary of State Julian Smith has ordered an internal review into the decision to take down portraits of the Queen from government buildings in Belfast.

The pictures were removed after a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office was paid £10,000 in compensation for having to walk past royal portraits.

A UK Government spokesperson said yesterday that the review "will report in due course".

The NIO did not confirm if the Secretary of State has requested that the portraits be put back on display ahead of the review's outcome.

On Thursday, Mr Smith revealed there is a photograph of the Queen in his private office at Stormont House.

That same day, the DUP urged him to reinstate a portrait of the Queen, with party leader Arlene Foster saying it was "ridiculous" that it had been removed.

The party's East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said yesterday it was encouraging that Mr Smith was now going to get to grips with the issue.

He added: "It is important that the Secretary of State conducts the internal review which he has now committed to.

"It is entirely appropriate that as Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he would see no difficulty with portraits of the Queen being displayed here in Belfast.

"We should ensure that displays such as Her Majesty are able to take place, recognising the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

"In other embassies and government buildings across the world, there will be pictures of the Head of State on display.

"This is appropriate and such a display should therefore be the same for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom."

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan had tabled a number of questions at Westminster seeking further answers from the NIO regarding the payout.

But Lord Rogan says answers he has received over the removal of the royal portraits simply raise more questions, not least why Stormont House should be treated differently to NIO HQ in London and Hillsborough Castle.

"Stormont House is the official HQ of the NIO locally and it is therefore only fitting that portraits of Her Majesty should be on display there to both reflect and respect the constitutional reality of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland," he said.

"This situation should never have been allowed to happen and is the result of meek and weak leadership within the NIO which must be brought to a swift end".

The NIO employee had allegedly claimed under human rights legislation that it was unfair for him to have to work in a location in which he could be offended by the royal portraits.

It is understood that the portraits were replaced with a photograph of the Queen meeting the late Sinn Fein leader, and former Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

But it emerged this week that all the paintings had since been taken down and replaced with landscapes.

Responding to the controversy for the first time, a Sinn Fein spokesperson said yesterday: "Since its creation, the six county state has been awash with symbols of the British and unionist identity.

"The Irish identity was deliberately erased from the official narrative.

"That imbalance needs to be fully addressed, not only in terms of the Irish nationalist identity, but in recognition of the ever-increasing diversity of this society.

"Where balance cannot be achieved, a neutral space should be the default option to ensure that no-one feels intimidated or uncomfortable."

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 could possibly lead to causing offence and disrupting workplace harmony.

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