The NIO has said that it will not be revealing when the small photo of the Queen was first placed in Secretary of State Julian Smith’s office in Stormont House.
Last week, hours after the News Letter had revealed that the NIO had instigated a ban on displaying Royal portraits or photos on the walls of its Belfast headquarters, the department issued a statement from Mr Smith which implied that there was no such ban.
The secretary of state said he had been “delighted” to see a photo of the Queen in his Stormont House office when he arrived on Friday, July 26.
However, when asked when the image had been placed there, an NIO spokesman said he did not know but would attempt to find out.
Almost a week later, after multiple efforts by the News Letter to get the NIO to answer the question, it remains unanswered. Several sources have now come forward to tell this newspaper that there was no such image in the office until very recently and it appears to have been placed there around a fortnight ago after questions began to be asked about the situation.
Until yesterday, the NIO had simply ignored the News Letter’s question by failing to respond to phone calls and emails.
But yesterday, when asked again to respond to the questions, an NIO spokesman made clear that it would not be answering, saying that it had nothing to add to a an 18-word statement on Friday which said that Mr Smith had asked for an “internal review” of the episode.
The NIO has said nothing about who will conduct the review, what its terms will be, when it will report or whether it will ever be made public.
We also had asked about an apparent inconsistency in a House of Lords answer from NIO minister Lord Duncan who last week said that “other pictures of the Queen are displayed at Stormont House”.
Even allowing for Mr Smith’s image, which appears to have been placed there recently, he had referred to multiple images of the Queen currently on display in the building. When asked to clarify the locations of the other pictures of the Queen and when they were placed on display, the NIO similarly refused to answer.
Last Wednesday, Boris Johnson was said to have been “puzzled” about the removal of Royal images. On Friday the Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce claimed that the portrait of the Queen was to be put back up “on orders of Downing Street”.