Northern Ireland news

Family of Seamus Heaney not asked for use of portrait in Northern Ireland centenary campaign

The image of Seamus Heaney used for the "Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100"

THE family of Seamus Heaney was not asked for permission for his portrait be used by the British government as part of its Northern Ireland centenary marketing.

There was controversy last September after the Nobel laureate's image was used to promote events linked to the establishment of the Stormont administration.

A colour painting of the Nobel laureate, who was born into a rural Catholic family in Bellaghy, appeared among images in the ‘Our Story in the Making: NI Beyond 100’ initiative.

The campaign was unveiled by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis in December.

At the time SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described it a "cynical attempt" to reduce the Co Derry poet's image to a "branding tool to promote that narrative about partition".

Unionists defended the move with DUP MP Gavin Robinson branding it as "wholly inclusive" and said the response from some politicians showed a "lack of generosity".

Mr Heaney died in Dublin in 2013.

While the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) did not consult the family it said permission was received from Queen's University, which holds the rights to the portrait, which is by Tai Shan Schierenberg.

Initially it claimed permission had come from the university's Seamus Heaney Centre but later clarified this after the claim was disputed.

Throughout the controversy neither the university or Heaney family have commented.

Queen's has now confirmed in response to an FOI request by Belfast Live that it did not ask the Heaney family to consent to the portrait being used.

"It is not standard practice for the university to seek permission for the use of portraits in their collection with the sitter and/or artist and in this case, the university did not therefore seek permission from the Heaney family about its use," it said.

"However, university representatives have been in contact with the Heaney family on this matter."

Queen's confirmed that a request to use the portrait was received from the NIO on December 3 and permission was granted on December 7.

However, it did not disclose linked correspondence, citing "personal information" and data protection exemptions.

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