ACCORDING to the calendar on our kitchen wall, today is the second of August. Yet when you look at the news, every day seems to be the first of April.

Latest snippet from Wonderland is that all pictures of the Queen have been removed from the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast. Yes, you read it right, the Northern Ireland Office of Her Majesty’s Government.

Ludicrouser and ludicrouser, this follows the revelation that a senior civil servant at Stormont received a secret £10,000 compensation payout for his distress at having to walk past photographs of Her Majesty. The award to Lee Hegarty, who presumably waives his aversion to the Queen’s picture when it comes on £20 notes, was revealed in Parliament by Lord Maginnis.

He told fellow peers: ‘This individual, who had worked in the NIO for between 15 and 20 years, claimed that under human rights legislation it was unfair to him to have to work where he was offended by portraits. The portraits were removed and the offended party was consulted on what should replace them.

‘He suggested that the portraits of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh should be replaced with photographs of, at best, the Queen meeting people during engagements in Northern Ireland.

‘One such photograph features Her Majesty the Queen shaking hands with the former deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.’

He went on that ‘the case 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.’

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

He contrasted the ‘scandalous’ £10,000 payout with the years of delay in compensating victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, who he said had been ‘shamefully left out in the cold’.

So what have our offices of state come to when an uppity civil servant in a politically sensitive department not only resents the Queen but feels the need to proclaim this to his superiors? And they respond by showering him with dosh and promoting him into the bargain? What is someone like him doing in the job in the first place? And how can a man of his anti-monarchist views possibly be impartial over such a finely balanced issue as the Ulster Parades?

One can only imagine the conversation between Hegarty and his superior:

‘Ah, Lee, come on in. You’re looking a bit stressed, old fellow. Job getting on top of you?’

‘Aye, and the worst of it is having to walk past photographs of that woman and her slimy husband.’

‘Well I’m sure we can do something about that. Can’t have our civil servants having their feelings hurt. We’ll take them all down. And would ten grand make you feel better, strictly on the qt, you understand? Plus maybe a promotion?

‘Aye, all right.’

‘Great, that’s super. Now anything else I can do for you? Platinum paper clips? Chauffeur-driven limo? Coffee harvested from civet droppings? Tickets for the rugger?

‘No, that’ll be all for now. I’ll be off home to nurse my hurt feelings.’

Now here is what should have happened:

‘Ah Hegarty, come on in. Now what’s this bollocks I’ve heard about you objecting to pictures of Her Majesty? Are you serious, man?’

‘Er, er . . .’

‘I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. Get out of my office, you bolshie bastard, pack up your stuff and consider yourself lucky I don’t report you to MI5.’

Late news from Compo Corner:

A vegan who works in an abattoir is demanding a payout because he did not realise he would be slaughtering animals;

A Manchester United star wants extra wages because he has to chase a ball around the pitch for several hours a week;

A psychiatrist is taking a local authority to court because he did not know when he got a job in an asylum that it would be full of lunatics.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells with the family dog Bingo. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk