NIO refuses to say if it consulted Seamus Heaney's family over NI centenary branding
THE Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has refused to say if it consulted with the family of Seamus Heaney about the use of his image in a £3 million plan to commemorate Northern Ireland's centenary.
It came as the BBC yesterday reported that the NIO had confirmed the Heaney family were not spoken to about his portrait being used in the branding.
A colour painting of the Nobel laureate, who was born into a rural Catholic family in Bellaghy, appears among images in the "Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100" initiative.
The campaign was unveiled by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on Monday.
It has remained unclear if Mr Heaney's family, who have not been available for comment, were consulted about plans to use his image.
On Monday, The Irish News asked the NIO if it had sought approval from the family.
A spokesman would only say that "permission for use of the Seamus Heaney portrait was received from the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast, who hold rights to the portrait".
BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme yesterday said the NIO had confirmed that the Heaney family were not spoken to or asked about the use of his image for the campaign.
It also reported that the NIO had made clear to QUB that permission was being sought for the centenary campaign.
However, when asked last night for confirmation of this statement, a spokeswoman only would say "our position remains the same on this" and quoted the same comments from earlier this week that permission had been received from Queen's University.
QUB were also asked for comment, but had not responded last night.
Meanwhile, DUP MP Gavin Robinson has criticised SDLP leader Colum Eastwood after he branded the use of Mr Heaney's image as "deeply offensive".
As questions were raised about the use of the poet's portrait, Mr Eastwood described it as a "cynical attempt to co-opt Seamus Heaney’s image and reduce his work to a branding tool to promote that narrative about partition".
The world-renowned poet, who died in 2013, made clear his nationalist views and once wrote: "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen".
But Mr Robinson said: "The branding for the centenary on this website is wholly inclusive and there rightly would have been much criticism had it been seen to only reflect those of us who strongly cherish and support being part of the United Kingdom.
"The response from some elected representatives however has demonstrated a lack of generosity and an unwillingness to display the kind of positive leadership they themselves said was necessary from us all.
"Unfortunately there have been no voices coming forward from within civic nationalism either to offer that leadership."