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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Dominic Lipinski via PA Images Queen Elizabeth II

DUP calls for pictures of Queen Elizabeth to be reinstated in Stormont following reports they were removed

The DUP said it has raised the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

THE DUP HAS called for a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in Northern Ireland to be reinstated in Stormont House following reports that pictures of her were removed. 

Three weeks ago, Lord Maginnis told the House of Lords that a Northern Ireland Office civil servant was paid £10,000 in compensation for being offended at having to walk past portraits of the queen and her husband, the News Letter reported. 

Maginnis said that the civil servant was consulted on what should replace the portraits, to which he suggested a photo of the queen meeting Martin McGuinness. 

The News Letter reported that a politician who was in Stormont House this week claimed the only pictures they could see on display were landscapes. 

Following Maginnis’ comments, the NIO said: “We will not comment on individual personnel matters.” 

However, when the story began to be reported in the media, the top civil servant at the NIO, Sir Jonathan Stephens, emailed all employees to “offer some reassurance”. This email was seen by the BBC

In the email, Stephens said the office in contact with the individual concerned and was offering support. 

Lord Rogan raised the issue again in the House of Lords and asked the government to lay out the criteria used to determine which portraits are displayed or removed from the Northern Ireland Office buildings, according to the BBC. 

In response, Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Duncan said his office was working in accordance with guidelines outlined by the Equality Commission. 

“The NIO is sensitive to the display of ‘posters, pictures, portraits or other displays that are more closely associated with one or other of the communities’ and will consider any concerns raised by employees. I can confirm that the department takes steps to ensure no such images are displayed in Stormont House,” he said. 

The BBC reported that a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Equality Commission said that displaying a portrait of the queen in a building where civil servants work was not unlawful.

A tribunal or court would be asked to assess, whether in all of the circumstances of a case, a working environment violated an individual’s dignity or could have the effect of creating an intimidating or hostile workplace.

“In our experience in past cases, the issue of a royal portrait in the workplace has often been accompanied by wider harassment allegations and workplace tensions. Of course the issue is all about context,” the spokesperson said. 

‘There should be a sensible approach’

This afternoon, the DUP’s East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson called on the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith to reinstate photographs of the queen at Stormont House. 

Earlier today, Smith tweeted a photo of the queen in his Stormont office, and said: “Proud to have a picture of Her Majesty The Queen on the mantle piece of my private office at Stormont.

“I was delighted to see it there when I arrived last Friday.”

Robinson said that while Smith has a “small photograph” of the queen, “this does not address the wider issue”. 

“The Equality Commission has explained how these photographs were not automatically incompatible with the work environment. The Secretary of State should engage with the Equality Commission to understand the parameters,” Robinson said. 

He added that Sinn Féin should also “give leadership on this issue, to show they respect the constitutional reality”. 

“There should be an acknowledgement that people have an identity, which should be displayed and understood in an appropriate way,” Robinson said. 

We cannot have a society in which we strip colour and identity out. That will only ruin community relations and will not help society to move forward together. 

The DUP has raised the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Smith. 

There should be a sensible approach to issues like this. The portrait should be reinstated forthwith.

“The Northern Ireland Office should reflect the reality that it is a branch of the United Kingdom government.  There is no shame in that,” Robinson said.

Responding to Robinson’s statement, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said that “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,” the spokesperson said.

“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.”

In a statement, Smith said: “I was delighted to see a picture of Her Majesty in my office when I arrived at Stormont House for the first time. There are also many pictures and portraits of Her Majesty, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family on public display at Hillsborough Castle.”

The NIO also supports an extensive programme of visits by members of the Royal Family to Northern Ireland, meeting many hundreds of people and a very wide range of groups from across all communities every year. The NIO has delivered 12 such visits in the past twelve months, including the annual garden party held this year at Castle Coole.

“I also recognise the importance of the Northern Ireland Office being an open and inclusive place to work, able to attract highly skilled people from across all parts of our community in Northern Ireland. As an employer in Northern Ireland, the NIO takes its obligations under the Northern Ireland Act and Fair Employment legislation seriously.”

Smith said he would not comment on the specific comments made by Lord Maginnis.

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