Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Provo spy is a Derry school's deputy head

Rosa McLaughlin.
Rosa McLaughlin.

From a jail cell as an IRA spy, to the vice-principal's chair at a Catholic secondary school, Rosa McLaughlin has come a long way in 15 years.

The former Provo has built up a favourable reputation within the education system in the North West and was last month appointed vice-principal at St Mary's College in Derry.

The rise of the former republican prisoner within the teaching profession began not long after a judge warned her she would never work as a teacher again.

As she stood in the dock at Belfast Crown Court in October 1998 convicted of IRA membership and collecting and communicating information, a judge told a then 26-year-old Ms McLaughlin, that "as a result of these convictions I am satisfied you will never be employed in the United Kingdom as a teacher".

Judge Lord Justice Nicholson warned her: "Those who got you involved in the membership of the IRA have succeeded in destroying your career as a teacher."

Ms McLaughlin was recruited by the IRA during her fifth year as a student at Queen's University in Belfast.

In November 1996, while working as a school teacher in east Belfast, she was caught spying for the terrorist organisation.

It was a year of renewed terrorist violence, with the IRA accusing the then Prime Minister John Major of pro-unionist bias and ending its 17-month ceasefire.

The group relaunched its campaign of terror in February that year with a bomb in the London Docklands that killed two people, injured 40 and caused £150m worth of damage. A few months later an IRA bomb in Manchester injured 200 people and IRA members killed Jerry McCabe, a detective in the Garda Siochana, during a post office robbery in Co Limerick. Throughout that year Miss McLaughlin was part of an IRA spying ring, whose job was to target key RUC personnel and police stations.

She gathered information on former RUC Assistant Chief Constable Trevor Forbes, a retired former boss of the RUC's Special Branch.

She also spied on Bangor RUC station in Co Down while she lived in a rented apartment in the town.

It was claimed at her court hearing that she had made sketches of the station, including the height of the perimeter fence and the sites of security gates and cameras.

During her trial the court heard that Miss McLaughlin had confessed to police that she had been living in a flat in Juniper Park, Twinbrook, provided by the IRA, when she agreed to spy for them.

She then moved to Abbey Court in Bangor where she was eventually arrested.

As a member of "Northern Command IRA", her flat was paid for by the terror group.

During the winter of 1995-96 she targeted Bangor RUC station, although she claimed she was not sworn into the Provisional IRA until May or June of 1996.

The court heard that she told police she had attended 24 IRA meetings and that at the meetings with IRA bosses they discussed plans for targeting Mr Forbes.

A defence lawyer told the court that Miss McLaughlin's case was "one of the most modest cases of its kind to come before the courts".

However, Judge Lord Justice Nicholson sentenced Miss McLaughlin, who denied the charges against her, to three years' imprisonment.

But she was allowed to walk free having already served 18 months on remand.

As she walked from the courthouse that day almost 15 years ago, close to tears and supported by her family, Miss McLaughlin was determined that her past would not interfere with her future.

Since then she has worked as a senior teacher in Colaiste Feirste, Northern Ireland's only post-primary Irish medium school, and as the inter-schools liaison manager for the Foyle Learning Community, which is made up of 15 post-primary schools in the Derry City Council area.

Last month McLaughlin – who was inevitably once dubbed an "IRA Mata Hari girl", after the Dutch courtesan executed for espionage in the early 1900s – walked proudly into St Mary's College, an all-girls' Catholic school, as its new vice-principal.

How wrong Lord Justice Nicholson's warnings were all those years ago.

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