Minister: Official offended by Royal portrait could give £10k to charity

Lord Maginnis criticised Sir Jonathan Stephens, above, saying that he recommended the payment
Lord Maginnis criticised Sir Jonathan Stephens, above, saying that he recommended the payment
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A senior NIO civil servant alleged to have received £10,000 for being offended at a portrait of the Queen should consider giving the money to charity, an NIO minister has said.

The suggestion from Lord Duncan, the NIO’s minister in the House of Lords, came on Monday night after stinging criticism of the department’s most senior civil servant, Sir Jonathan Stephens, who was said to have recommended that the payment be made.

NIO minister Lord Duncan

NIO minister Lord Duncan

In July, Lord Maginnis told Parliament that portraits of the Queen, pictured, and the Duke of Edinburgh had been removed after NIO official Lee Hegarty complained about them and was paid “around £10,000”, with the situation having been “shrouded in secrecy”.

Lord Maginnis said that the settlement “was signed off by the then secretary of state, Theresa Villiers MP, on the recommendation, I am informed, of her permanent secretary Jonathan Stephens”.

On Monday, Lord Maginnis returned to the issue, telling the House of Lords that Mr Hegarty, who is now the top civil servant in the Parades Commission, had been at the NIO’s London office – where there is also a portrait of the Queen – “for several years” without having been offended.

In a blistering attack on the veteran NIO mandarin, the former MP went on: “Is his ill judgment to go unpunished for its deviousness?

The House of Lords was told that portraits of the Queen were removed and replaced with photos ' but now those have also been removed

The House of Lords was told that portraits of the Queen were removed and replaced with photos ' but now those have also been removed

“In respect of appointment functions that are mentioned in the papers that we have received [about a role for the NIO in making public appointments in the absence of devolution], is that biased individual to exercise his current role?

“Is he to have the privilege of endorsing his placemen?”

In responding to Lord Maginnis’s comments – which were made during a debate about secondary legislation to extend what is creeping direct rule – Lord Duncan made no comment about the criticism of the most senior official in his department.

Instead, he said: “The other issue that we need to touch on is the question of the £10,000 to the individual who was offended by the picture of the Queen. I will not comment on the details, but I might have thought that that money — even at this late stage — could be given to charity. That would be no bad thing.”

Last month the News Letter revealed that Mr Smith had reinstated photos of the Queen which had been removed in 2017.

A source close to Secretary of State said at the time: “The Secretary of State was clear that the Head of State’s image should be on display in Stormont House.”