Civil servant ‘offended’ by portrait of Queen is paid £10,000 in compensation

Official reportedly claimed that paintings contravened his human rights

Tim Wyatt
Friday 12 July 2019 15:57
Civil servant 'offended' at walking past portrait of Queen paid £10,000 in compensation

A civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office was paid £10,000 compensation because he was offended by having to walk past a portrait of the Queen each day, a peer has said.

Lord Maginnis, a former Ulster Unionist Party MP, told the House of Lords on Wednesday that Lee Hegarty complained under human rights legislation he should not have to work in an office that featured paintings of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

After his complaint, the portraits were removed and replaced with photographs of the royals meeting people in Northern Ireland during official visits.

But Lord Maginnis said he was most outraged that the senior official’s dispute was settled in secret with the then-Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, who approved a £10,000 compensation payment for “hurt feelings and distress”.

The peer said: “This is scandalous. It is an indictment of the Northern Ireland Office and of this government.”

Speaking to a mostly empty chamber, Lord Maginnis said the incident showed how the NIO had lost all sense of reality and compared the compensation payout with the delays faced by victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

“I urge the Northern Ireland Office not only to restore the original portraits of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh but to expedite payment of the comparatively paltry compensation due to the people who are more deserving than this opportunistic civil servant.”

Mr Hegarty has subsequently been promoted as secretary and accounting officer for the Parades Commission, a government body that regulates the often contentious marches common in Northern Ireland.

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Lord Maginnis said the civil servant was now “compromised” in this position on an important neutral public body “because of his bigoted stance over the royal family”.

A spokesperson for the Parades Commission declined to comment, but in a statement the NIO said: "The government takes its obligations under fair employment legislation very seriously.

“We will not comment on individual personnel matters."

A source close to Ms Villiers did not dispute the account given by Lord Maginnis and said: "Of course, Theresa was hugely reluctant to allow this payment, but unfortunately sometimes that is unavoidable in this kind of legal dispute.

"Any secretary of state has to listen to legal advice in such cases, whatever their own personal views."

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