£10,000 for civil servant offended by royal portraits

A senior Northern Ireland civil servant was paid £10,000 (€11,150) in compensation because he was offended at having to walk past portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, it has emerged.

His complaints led to the portraits being replaced by a picture of the queen meeting Martin McGuinness, the former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and ex-IRA leader.

Lee Hegarty, who is currently in charge of the Northern Irish Parades Commission, claimed that under human rights laws it was unfair to him to have to work in a place where he was offended by such portraits.

Former Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis, who exposed the “scandalous episode”, said the portraits had been removed and Mr Hegarty was then consulted on what would replace them. The civil servant suggested images of the queen meeting people at engagements in Northern Ireland.

“One such photograph features … the queen shaking hands with the former deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast,” Mr Maginnis told the Lords. “I do not mind that; what I mind is that the case brought by the complainant was settled secretly and that the sum of £10,000 was handed over, presumably for hurt feelings and distress.

“This 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.

“I have been told to look at the annual accounts to find out where the money came from – but it is not to be found. That should concern us.”

Mr Maginnis said that last year, some time after the compensation, Mr Hegarty was promoted to become accounting officer of the Parades Commission.

Reality

He contrasted the treatment of Mr Hegarty with the years of delay in compensating victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

“We have lost all sense of reality when a portrait of her majesty can cause offence to a civil servant but we do not bat an eyelid when we deny closure and justice to unfortunate people who have been abused in the most outrageous manner imaginable.”

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: “A picture of the queen is not sectarian. The fact that even Sinn Féin go and meet her shows that it could not possibly be regarded as something that the nationalist community cannot identify with.

“There’s now a general compensation culture within the civil service in Northern Ireland, where people get offended or claim to be offended knowing that they’ll be paid.”

The Northern Ireland Office refused to comment on “individual personnel matters”.

Meanwhile, Orange Order marches marking the Twelfth of July took place across the North yesterday.

The longest parade was in Belfast, where hundreds of Orange lodge members, accompanied by about 60 bands, made their way through the city.

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