A former RUC Special Branch chief has defended the appointment of a former IRA spy to a top teaching post in Northern Ireland.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed that Rosa McLaughlin (40) took up the post of vice-principal at St Mary's College in Londonderry last month.
In 1998 she was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for collecting information on a RUC Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes and a police station while working as a school teacher in east Belfast.
At the time, a judge told her he was satisfied she would "never be employed in the United Kingdom as a teacher".
Parents of pupils at the Derry school expressed anger at not being informed of Ms McLaughlin's former ties to the terror group.
Now Raymond White – who served 15 years in Special Branch, some of it under Mr Forbes's command – says he believes that the former Provo Mata Hari was entitled to her job, provided the educational authorities were satisfied with her suitability.
"I can't speak for Trevor Forbes, but I think the attitude with many retired officers would be that it is a matter for employers to judge job applicants in full knowledge of the facts," he said.
"Fifteen years have passed by since her offence and I hope she is a much wiser woman now than she was as a young teacher. It was clearly wrong to gather such intelligence, but thankfully nobody was killed as a result.
"Rosa McLaughlin was publicly exposed and identified and suffered the ignominy of it at the time. One hopes that this was a lesson learnt and that she would not think of repeating the same behaviour in the present circumstances."
A spokesman for republican prisoners group Coiste na nIarchimi said Ms McLaughlin was fully entitled to apply for, and take up, the position under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
"The war is over and we are constantly striving to embed the peace within our communities," he said.
However, there was anger among unionists yesterday as details emerged of Ms McLaughlin's past.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the news of the appointment would outrage "all decent people".
"This is a travesty," he said.
"If someone had been convicted of spying on Constable Ronan Kerr, would they have been so appointed, or, as part of the republican rewrite of history, is spying on a senior RUC officer acceptable to CCMS (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools)?"
Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott said he was shocked at the appointment. "I am at a loss to understand how anyone could employ McLaughlin as a teacher," he said.
A spokeswoman for St Mary's College said the appointment was carried out in accordance with both the law and relevant statutory agencies.
Rosa McLaughlin was a 26-year old school teacher in east Belfast when she was found guilty of spying on Bangor RUC station and collecting information on former RUC Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes. She was sentenced to three years in jail, but was freed upon conviction after spending 18 months on remand.
Obsession with our past can only hinder our future
By Paul Arthur
David Trimble once said that just because people have had a past it doesn't mean that they can't have a future. He was recognising a truism in peace processes that an obsession with the past is a hindrance to creating the conditions for a peaceful future. He was following, too, the examples of Yitzhak Rabin and Nelson Mandela, both of whom recognised that you need to make peace with your enemies.
And, as in the case of South Africa and Israel/Palestine, we are witnessing that the road to peace doesn't always run smoothly. Yesterday's story that a former IRA member had been appointed as a school vice-principal follows that model.
It is institutionalised in the present constitutional arrangements at Stormont where former adversaries work in surprising harmony. But it's reflected, too, in the current flag issue. The easy part in a peace agreement is institutional reform; the hard bit is attitudinal change. People are obsessed with their pasts and with the gap between the rhetoric of a peace agreement and the material realities on the ground. They look for a peace dividend and if they don't see it they are liable to revolt.
Hence we have a paradox: normalisation and confrontation. Again it fits a pattern. Coming out of violence means that we have to manage people's expectations, whether they are symbolic or material. The challenges facing our politicians are no different to those in other conflict areas. How do we deal with the past? How do they persuade their constituents that the future means a better quality of life?
It means that they have to be able to stretch their constituency, but at a level they can absorb. That means that they have to be able to display leadership and moral courage.