U-turn sees Queen’s image restored to the walls of Stormont House

The Queen's portrait was removed, and then all images of the monarch were taken off the walls of Stormont House.''Photo: Kelvin Boyes/PressEye
The Queen's portrait was removed, and then all images of the monarch were taken off the walls of Stormont House.''Photo: Kelvin Boyes/PressEye
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Photos of the Queen have been restored to the walls of Stormont House two years after being removed, the News Letter can reveal.

The head of state’s portrait was initially removed from the Belfast headquarters of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) several years ago and then photos of the Queen which replaced that painting were removed in 2017.

In July, Lord Maginnis told Parliament that portraits of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had been removed after an NIO official complained about them and that he was paid thousands of pounds in compensation, with the situation having been “shrouded in secrecy”.

Lord Maginnis told the House of Lords: “It has come to my attention that around £10,000 was paid in compensation to a civil servant who was offended at having to walk past portraits of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

“This individual, who had worked in the NIO for between 15 and 20 years, claimed that under human rights legislation it was unfair to him to have to work where he was offended by portraits. The portraits were removed and the offended party, a Mr Lee Hegarty, was consulted on what should replace them.”

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”.

Sir Jonathan remains as the NIO’s permanent secretary, its most senior official.

A month ago the News Letter revealed that all images of the Queen – even one of her shaking hands with Martin McGuinness – were then banned from the walls of Stormont House. NIO minister Lord Duncan said at the time that the department “takes steps to ensure no such images are displayed in Stormont House”.

Reacting to widespread criticism of the move, new Secretary of State Julian Smith then tweeted a small image of the Queen on the mantel piece of his private office within the building, but the NIO declined to say whether it had only been placed there in response to criticism of the initial decision.

Mr Smith ordered a civil service review of the initial decisions. Despite having begun at the height of the holiday season, that review has now been completed in an unusually brisk time frame for the slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy.

The News Letter understands that a photo of the Queen on her own has been placed in the main entrance corridor of Stormont House - the first place where guests go when visiting the property - along with another image of the Queen with Irish President Michael D Higgins and an image of Prince Charles in a church with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh.

The images are part of a wider series of photos, one of which is of commemorations at the Ulster Tower for the fallen at the Somme. Officials believe the images as a whole represent a balanced range.

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

The original portrait of the Queen which had been on display in Stormont House had been returned to Hillsborough Castle after it was removed from the walls.

It is understood that the room in which the portrait is hung there is due for restoration next year.

Mr Smith has written to Hillsborough Castle asking if the portrait can be loaned back to the NIO when work is being done to the room.

Under Karen Bradley, the NIO had appeared to show little interest in the issue. At the time of Lord Maginnis’s remarks, all that the NIO would say was: “We will not comment on individual personnel matters.”

The NIO said: “A portrait of the Queen – our head of state – is on display in the public area of Stormont House alongside a balanced set of images celebrating and reflecting the work of the Northern Ireland Office.”