Photos of Queen removed from NI government office

Martin McGuinness shakes hands with the Queen in Belfast in 2012Image copyright Paul Faith

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has removed all portraits of the Queen from its Belfast headquarters.

Three weeks ago, Lord Maginnis told the House of Lords an NIO Civil Servant was paid £10,000 for having to walk past portraits of the Queen.

The senior employee was reportedly offended by the pictures in Stormont House.

The employee was consulted about what image should be used, and suggested one of the Queen meeting Martin McGuinness.

All photos of the Queen have now been removed from the building, the News Letter has reported.

Many nationalists in Northern Ireland do not regard themselves as British subjects, and would not recognise the Queen as their head of state.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Julian Smith was appointed as Northern Ireland secretary last week by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Julian Smith, said he recognised “the importance of the Northern Ireland Office being an open and inclusive place to work”.

“As an employer in Northern Ireland, the NIO takes its obligations under the Northern Ireland Act and Fair Employment legislation seriously,” he added.

‘This is outrageous’

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said the issue had been raised with Boris Johnson during his visit to Northern Ireland, saying the new prime minister “looked a bit shocked”.

“Hopefully his staff will follow up on this and we will get some clarity,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan said: “If true, this is outrageous. It is political correctness gone mad.”

When the story was initially reported, the top civil servant at the NIO, Sir Jonathan Stephens, emailed every employee to “offer some reassurance”.

In an email, seen by the BBC, he said the office was in contact with the individual concerned and was offering support.

Lord Rogan has since questioned the issue again in the House of Lords.

He asked the government to set out the criteria used to determine which portraits are displayed or removed from NIO buildings and to clarify the facts around what Lord Maginnis had told peers.

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Media captionLord Maginnis made a claim in Parliament about a £10,000 compensation payment

Posters, pictures and portraits

In response, NIO minister Lord Duncan said his office was working in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Equality Commission.

“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.”

Lord Rogan said that the response “would seem to confirm that Royal portraits have been removed from Stormont House”.

When contacted for a response, the NIO stated: “We will not comment on individual personnel matters, nor will we comment on the specific comments made by Lord Rogan”.

Cambridge student dies on internship in Madagascar

Alana CutlandImage copyright Cutland family
Image caption Alana Cutland was studying Natural Sciences at Robinson College in Cambridge

Tributes have been paid to a Cambridge University student who died in Madagascar while on an internship.

Alana Cutland, 19, from Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, died earlier this month, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

Her family paid tribute to their “wonderful daughter” and said they were heartbroken at the death of “a bright, independent young woman”.

Ms Cutland was studying Natural Sciences at Robinson College.

In a statement, her family said she was a talented dancer with a sense of adventure “who lit up every room she walked in to, and made people smile just by being there”.

They added: “She was always so kind and supportive to her family and friends, which resulted in her having a very special connection with a wide network of people from all walks of her life, who we know will miss her dearly.

“She was particularly excited to be embarking on the next stage of her education, on an internship in Madagascar complementing her studies in Natural Sciences.”

Image copyright Cutland family
Image caption Alana Cutland was on an internship in Madagascar when she died

Madagascar is an island off the south-east coast of Africa, famed for its unique wildlife.

Dr David Woodman, from Robinson College, said they were “deeply shocked by the news of Alana’s death”.

He added: “In her two years here, she made a huge contribution to many different aspects of life in the college – she will be sorely missed by us all.

“The college extends its sincerest condolences to Alana’s family at this extremely difficult time.”

Ashes 2019: England & Australia set for first Test at Edgbaston

Joe Root (left) oversaw England’s 4-0 defeat in Australia in 2017-18, while this series will be Tim Paine’s first as Australia captain
Men’s Ashes 2019: England v Australia, first Specsavers Test
Venue: Edgbaston Dates: 1-5 August Start time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and BBC Sport website, plus in-play highlights and text commentary

England’s bid to regain the Ashes from Australia begins with the first Test at Edgbaston on Thursday.

The home side won the World Cup just over two weeks ago, but were beaten 4-0 on their tour down under in 2017-18.

England have not lost a home Ashes series since 2001 and have not lost at Edgbaston to any side in 11 years.

They have opted against handing a debut to pace bowler Jofra Archer, instead preferring Chris Woakes on his home ground.

Australia are yet to confirm their team, but batsmen Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are in line to play Test cricket for the first time since being banned for their part in the ball-tampering scandal on the tour of South Africa in 2018.

The series, the latest start to an Ashes in the UK, will move on to Lord’s, Headingley and Old Trafford before the urn is lifted at The Oval after a fifth Test that begins on 12 September.

Root ‘steely and desperate’

England captain Joe Root was on his first tour in charge 18 months ago, when England were outplayed on the field and dogged by problems off it.

Ben Stokes, this week restored as Test vice-captain, missed the tour after an incident outside a Bristol nightclub, and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow was accused of ‘headbutting’ Bancroft in the same Perth bar where England Lions batsman Ben Duckett would later pour a drink over James Anderson.

“You look back at an experience like that and take as much out of it as you can,” said 28-year-old Root. “I felt absolutely gutted and raw at the end of it.

“I never want to lose a big series like the Ashes, but it does make you more steely and desperate to turn things around this time.”

Until 2005, England went 20 years without lifting the urn on home soil. Since then, each captain – Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook twice – has got his hands on the tiny trophy at The Oval.

Although Root admitted he had “dreamt” about joining them, he said his team must focus on playing “strong cricket”.

“It’s easy to get carried away in a dream world and it is something growing up as a kid you want to be a part of,” he told BBC Sport.

“It’s an opportunity for this team to put themselves in the bracket with some famous teams, but we have to earn that right. We have to play some good cricket to get there and we’re more than capable of doing so.”

‘Our circle is unbreakable’ – Paine not intimidated

For Australia, Thursday sees them return to the ground where they were heavily defeated by England in the World Cup semi-final this month.

Edgbaston is famous for its partisan support of the home team, but Paine claimed he could name 15 more intimidating venues in world cricket.

“It’s great to be out on the ground. It’s not as great if you’re the person copping the songs, but it’s one of those things,” he said.

“The guys are looking forward to that. It’s part and parcel of coming here and it can sometimes bind the group and make them even better.

“We’ve spoken about making sure we’re driving our own energy, building our own atmosphere out on the ground. If we can do that we know that our own circle is unbreakable.”

Paine took over as captain following the sandpaper scandal that saw then captain Smith and deputy Warner banned for a year and opening batsman Bancroft for nine months.

Smith and Warner were booed throughout the World Cup, and wicketkeeper Paine said: “We spoke about the fact we think it’s going to go up a notch.

“It’s got the potential to unsettle anyone,” he said. “They’re human beings. They’ve got feelings. They’re no different to anyone else.”

Where will the Ashes be won and lost?

Curiously, there is a similar look to the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

Whereas each team is stacked with fast-bowling options, their batting looks vulnerable, especially in English conditions that usually favour the seamers.

England have Archer, all-rounder Sam Curran and Mark Wood, who is currently nursing a side injury, waiting in the wings, while Australia have only three places for Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood.

However, the hosts were bowled out for only 85 in their win over Ireland at Lord’s last week, with Root now opting to promote himself from number four to three in a bid to stiffen the top order.

With Australia similarly fragile, it is a huge boost for the tourists to be able to call on Warner and Smith, who was man of the series in the last Ashes thanks to his 687 runs at an average of 137.

On a wet Wednesday at Edgbaston, Root was asked if it will be a pattern of the series for the batsmen to struggle.

“It will play a massive hand, especially if conditions are how they are today,” he said. “It’s not like sides have been consistently banging out 500 around the world, never mind in England or Australia. That has been the rhythm of cricket globally in this format.

“There is a lot of talk about bowlers, but with that comes the opportunity for batters to prove a point.”

As interesting as the action with bat and ball will be the interaction between the two sides.

The last series down under was occasionally bad-tempered, but since then both teams have looked at their conduct – England in the wake of the Stokes incident, Australia after the ball-tampering affair.

Not only that, but England and Australia players have featured in global Twenty20 leagues together. Bairstow and Warner, for example, have opened together with great success in the Indian Premier League.

Ashes have to be played the right way, says Giles

Paine said: “We’re going to play competitive Test match cricket like any other nation does. Our guys understand what’s expected of them. They are role models not just for Australian people but all around the world.”

What’s new this summer?

As well as being a battle for cricket’s oldest prize, the next five Tests mark the start of the World Test Championship – a new, two-year, competition introduced by the International Cricket Council in the hope that it will give more context to Test cricket.

In a league of nine teams – India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh also feature – each side plays six series, three home and three away over the course of the next two years.

Points are awarded for the results of every Test, with the top two meeting in a final in the UK in 2021.

The points earned for a win depends on the length of the series, with the maximum number on offer in each series, 120, divided by the number of Tests. In this five-match series, each win is worth 24 points.

To coincide with the beginning of the Championship, names and numbers will feature on the back of players’ shirts for the first time in Test cricket.

In another first, concussion substitutes are also being introduced, having being trialled in domestic games in England and Australia. If a player is injured, he must be replaced like-for-like – so a batsman cannot be switched for a fast bowler.

This series is the last of England coach Trevor Bayliss’ reign. The Australian has opted to leave his post when his contract expires at the end of the summer.

PM urges NI parties to ‘seal power-sharing deal’

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “I am committed to Good Friday Agreement”

Boris Johnson has urged political parties in Northern Ireland to step up their efforts to restore devolved government, during talks in Belfast.

The PM held a series of meetings with the five main Stormont parties, in which Brexit was also discussed.

NI has been without a government since January 2017, when the power-sharing DUP/Sinn Féin coalition collapsed.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson held a private meeting with senior DUP figures, whose support he relies on in Parliament.

The prime minister left Northern Ireland on Wednesday afternoon and a Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Johnson told the parties while there had been constructive progress in the talks at Stormont, “there now needed to be serious and intense engagement to get this done”.

The spokesperson added that Mr Johnson had told the parties the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October “come what may” and his intention was to do so with a deal.

In all scenarios, the government was committed to the Good Friday Agreement and in no circumstances would there be physical checks or infrastructure on the border, they said.

Border poll

Following her meetings with Mr Johnson, DUP leader Arlene Foster said “talk of a border poll” was not something Boris Johnson was “entertaining”.

She met the prime minister along with DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson.

Sinn Féin said if a no-deal Brexit happens, the government must call a referendum on Irish unity “immediately”.

But Mrs Foster said the Conservative government would “never be neutral on the union”.

She said discussions regarding the confidence and supply pact the two parties share was for “another day” but defended the £1bn in spending for NI the DUP had secured in the past.

Image copyright NIO
Image caption NI Secretary Julian Smith with Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he arrived at Stormont

The issue over what will happen at the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit – and the proposed Irish backstop – has caused deep divisions between the parties at Stormont.

The backstop is the insurance policy negotiated as part of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, which aims to keep the border as seamless as it is now and avoid land border checks.

But Mr Johnson has referred to it as a “monstrosity”.

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Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

‘DUP’s gopher’

Mr Johnson met Sinn Féin first on Wednesday before talks with the smaller parties and further discussions with the DUP.

After the meeting, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she told the prime minister he must not be “the DUP’s gopher”.

Image caption Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald gave a press conference after her meeting with the prime minister

Ms McDonald said she did not believe the PM’s claim he would act with “total impartiality” towards all parties in NI.

“It’s not our business who dines with whom, but the politics of this is the DUP have used this to ensure… the continuing denial of rights and trample on the views of the majority of people who live here,” added Mrs McDonald.

As the talks were taking place, a number of protestors gathered outside, including a group of Harland and Wolff shipyard workers who are lobbying the government to renationalise their workplace.

The Belfast firm’s Norwegian parent company Dolphin Drilling is having serious financial problems and put Harland and Wolff up for sale late last year.

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Media captionHarland and Wolff workers in bi-lingual Stormont protest

They were joined at Stormont by Irish language campaigners, anti-Brexit protestors and the families of those killed in Ballymurphy in 1971 with others calling for government action on legacy issues.

Stormont talks

Northern Ireland has not been ruled directly from Westminster for more than a decade, but it has been without a government since 2017.

Several attempts to kick-start devolution have already failed.

The DUP is due to renew the confidence-and-supply agreement on which Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party depends for a working majority in the House of Commons.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Boris Johnson attended the DUP party conference in Belfast in 2018

The NI secretary met with the leaders of the five main parties on Wednesday afternoon and has asked the five independent working groups to hold further meetings and report back to him in the coming days.

He said he would then discuss further steps with the Irish government.

Northern Ireland woman ordered to reveal source of ‘unexplained’ £3.2m

cashImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Investigators say the owner cannot sell the properties until they prove their source of wealth

A Northern Ireland woman with suspected links to paramilitaries has had property assets worth £3.2 million frozen as part of an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Four of the properties are in London and the other two are in Northern Ireland.

Under a court order, she now has to explain how she financed the purchases.

The NCA believe she is associated with individuals involved in cigarette smuggling.

The properties cannot be sold, transferred or dissipated while the investigation continues.

She was served with the unexplained wealth order (UWO) by the NCA on Tuesday.

What is an unexplained wealth order?

An unexplained wealth order is a type of court order issued by a court to compel someone to reveal the sources of their unexplained wealth.

It was introduced to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.

Persons who fail to account are liable to have assets seized after the National Crime Agency makes a successful appeal to the High Court.

The first unexplained wealth order was issued in 2018, to Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.

Andy Lewis, Head of Asset Denial at the NCA, said it is only the fourth case of a UWO in the UK.

“Our investigations are complex and involve careful consideration before we make an application before the court,” Mr Lewis said.

“We do not investigate illicit finance based on monetary value alone. This latest order shows that we will act against those who we believe are causing the most harm to our communities.”

The NCA said no further details can be released which may lead to the identification of the properties or the people who own them.

Tree planting: Where can I do it and which type is best?

Dana Druka in a hammock in the Pentlands in EdinburghImage copyright Dana Druka
Image caption Reader Dana Druka relaxing in the Pentlands in Edinburgh

A warning from climate change experts that the UK needs to quickly plant a lot more trees has prompted readers to ask how they can help.

At best we need to more than double the amount of trees we plant to achieve our carbon reduction targets, experts have said.

Here are some of the things our readers wanted to know about tree planting.

Can I plant trees anywhere?

Image copyright Stuart James
Image caption Stuart James asked how he could make a difference to the environment by planting trees

Stuart James, 27, from Bath, said he wanted to be “a part of the change we all need to make”.

“I haven’t got a lot of land but can you just plant trees wherever you like?” he asked.

You can plant trees in your own garden as long as roots and branches would not damage nearby properties, according to the Woodland Trust.

In England, you would not need planning permission to plant less than two hectares (20,000 sq metres) in a low risk area, it said.

Otherwise you would need an Environmental Impact Assessment from the Forestry Commission.

Trees can only be planted around your local area with the landowners’ permission, The Tree Council warned.

You should not plant trees on archaeological sites, places with rare or protected species, grassland that has never been ploughed, wetlands and heathland, the Woodland Trust said.

Which are the best trees to plant?

Image copyright Trevor Ley
Image caption Alexander, six and Isaac, three, love looking after their garden

Trevor Ley, 43, from Woolwich in south east London, asked: “What small tree or plant could households grow in their gardens to best absorb carbon?

“I feel it is very important to support tree planting as, living in London, you see many green spaces disappear to become high-rise developments,” he said.

Mr Ley said his children Alexander, six, and Isaac, three, enjoyed putting the gardening tips they learned at school into practice at home.

Long-living native species such as oak and maple are effective at storing carbon dioxide, according to the Woodland Trust.

But these could grow to be very large so trees such as Hazel, Blackthorn, Crab Apple and Goat Willow were suitable for smaller spaces, the trust said.

Medium-sized tree options include Elder, Field Maple, Hawthorn, Holly and Yew.

The Tree Council suggested people “copy nature by planting trees already successful on or near the site”.

What can I do locally?

Image copyright Dana Druka
Image caption Dana Druka and her partner Owain Simpson trekked through the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia

Dana Druka, 24, from Scotland, now lives in Birmingham. She said she found it difficult to find a local tree planting scheme flexible enough to fit around university and work.

“I think planting trees can offer huge benefits,” she said. “From improving personal fitness and mental health, creating wonderful shared spaces for communities and ultimately being proactive in fighting climate change.”

Joshua Watkins, 18, from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, said news articles and charities told people about the problems but not the solutions.

“If everyone did at least a little something then surely that’s better than one organisation trying to do something big on their own?” he said.

The Tree Council has a national network of local tree volunteers and local councils should be able to point anyone in the right direction.

Many forests have schemes allowing people to dedicate a tree to a loved one.

Should developers plant one tree per new house?

Image copyright Natalie Parker
Image caption Natalie Parker suggested every new house should have a tree in the garden

Natalie Parker, 27, from Banbury in Oxfordshire, said: “I live on a established estate and have lots of trees to look at from my garden and love listening to the birds they attract.

“I think the government should introduce a rule that all new-build properties should plant a tree in the garden.

“Trees will attract wildlife to these new estates and also offer shade and privacy to residents.”

Hazel Sniadowski got in touch to tell us that when she moved to Milton Keynes in 1984 she received a £10 tree voucher.

“If this scheme was rolled out it would help towards the carbon neutral aim,” she said.

Even if every household with a garden in the UK planted two trees they would amount to 45 million.

This would still only be about 3% of the total number of trees the Woodland Trust has estimated the UK needs to plant by 2050 in order to reach net zero emissions – 1.5 billion.

Where can I go for more information?

Image copyright Chris Johns
Image caption Chris Johns’ favourite leafy spot is Staffhurst Wood near Oxted in Surrey

Chris Johns, 65, from Hurst Green in Surrey, asked which organisations offered advice about planting trees.

“Apart from the CO2 benefits of woodlands they are so pleasant on the eye and on the soul – having more woodlands must be win-win,” he said.

There are lots of resources on the websites of the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust, Royal Horticultural Society and The Tree Council.

This story was inspired by questions sent in by readers of Tree planting rise ‘needs to happen quickly’