Johnson ‘puzzled’ to hear there is no portrait of the Queen at Stormont House
Boris Johnson appeared "puzzled" when he was told there is no portrait of the Queen on the walls of Stormont House, a veteran unionist politician has said.
It emerged earlier this month that a senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) civil servant had been paid £10,000 in compensation for being offended at having to walk past portraits of the head of state and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
It is understood that the portraits were replaced with a photograph of the Queen meeting the late Sinn Fein vice president and former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.
However the News Letter newspaper has reported that all photographs have since been removed from the NIO's Belfast office with only landscape images now on display.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann raised the matter with the Prime Minister during a meeting on Wednesday morning at Stormont House.
Lord Empey, who was among the Ulster Unionist delegation, told PA: "He immediately looked puzzled and looked around in each direction for some guidance from officials on either side of him. One intervened with a comment about it being a personnel issue.
"He clearly wasn't aware of it ... he was clearly a bit surprised, is how I would put it.
"There was no definitive response from him but the matter has been squarely laid on the table and we shall see what emerges.
"I think both he and the new Secretary of State will be on a steep learning curve to understand the nuances of Northern Ireland."
Lord Empey said he "does not think it is unreasonable" for a portrait of the head of state to hang on the walls of a government department.
"This case goes back to 2012, it was actually secretary of state Theresa Villiers who was in office when the case was settled, so it's not a new issue, but we made the very simple point that while respecting of course the fact that people here have different identities and aspirations, nevertheless if you are working in a UK Government department it's not unreasonable to expect to see at some stage a photograph of the head of state," he said.
"Indeed if you go into any American office or an agency anywhere in the States or here you'll see a photograph of the president and a vice president of the day, and I can imagine there are people who are maybe not terribly comfortable with portraits of President Trump behind them.
"If you go into the Irish embassy in London you see a portrait of President Higgins, and quite rightly.
"So it's not as if there is anything spectacularly new about it, or different, but I'm just making the point, given it's a UK Government department, and Stormont House is part of the Northern Ireland Office which is a Whitehall department, I would have thought it not unreasonable that you would expect to see a portrait of the head of state.
"I think many people would have been shocked that the story – which was initially revealed by Lord Maginnis at Parliament, and subsequently by my colleague Lord Rogan, who asked questions and didn't get particularly helpful answers – that this matter has arisen at all. It's rather bizarre, to put it mildly.
"We will be pursing the matter."
A UK Government spokesman previously said: "The Government takes its obligation under fair employment legislation very seriously. We will not comment on individual personnel matters."
In a parliamentary question response published on Wednesday, Lord Duncan said there are royal portraits at the NIO's London office.
"Royal portraits hang on public display at Hillsborough Castle, and also in the London office occupied by the Northern Ireland Office," he said in response to a question from Lord Rogan.