Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith has moved to quash reports that all pictures of the Queen have been removed from his department's Belfast offices after reports a complaint by a senior civil servant had led to them being taken down.
In a tweet yesterday, Smith said he was “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”.
Proud to have a picture of Her Majesty The Queen on the mantle
— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithUK) August 1, 2019
piece of my private office at Stormont. I was delighted to see it there when I arrived last Friday. pic.twitter.com/wYbgNwRvWO
Smith’s comment came after reports that all pictures of the Queen had been removed from the Northern Ireland Office’s areas of Stormont House after a civil servant complaint. According to Lord Maginnis, an independent Ulster unionist member of the House of Lords, portraits of the Queen were removed and replaced with pictures of the Queen meeting people during engagements in Northern Ireland. Maginnis also said that compensation was paid to the civil servant, who he named, on the basis that having to work in an office he was offended by portraits breached his human rights.
Maginnis said the civil servant in question had been consulted about pictures that replaced the portraits, and that he had suggested an image of the monach meeting former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.
It was then reported by the Belfast-based publication the News Letter that not only portraits but all photos Queen had been removed from the NIO's headquarters in the city.
Responding to the controversy, NIO minister Lord Duncan said the department was working in line with Equality Commission guidelines
"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," he said.
"I can confirm that the department takes steps to ensure no such images are displayed in Stormont House."
But a statement, Smith appeared to contradict the claim that all photos of the monarch had been removed.
Smith said he recognised "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".
He added: “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.
"As an employer in Northern Ireland, the NIO takes its obligations under the Northern Ireland Act and fair employment legislation seriously. I am not going to comment on the specific comments made by Lord Maginnis."
Following Maginnis’s speech in the House of Lords, NIO permanent secretary Sir Jonathan Stephens has emailed every civil servant at the NIO to "offer some reassurance".
In the email, seen by the BBC, he said that “stories such as this are particularly unhelpful”, and added the department will always offer support to staff who need it.
"We want everyone to feel they work in a positive, supportive working environment.
"If someone raises a concern, we will address it. Everyone should feel able to raise concerns without fear of repercussion.”