Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Another hard lesson on dealing with past

The appointment of Rosa McLaughlin as the vice-principal of a Londonderry school inevitably raises questions about how we deal with the past and those most pivotally involved in the conflict.

She was convicted of being in the IRA and spying on a police station and one of the province's most senior RUC officers 15 years ago. At the time she was a teacher and the judge said her involvement in terrorism meant that her career was in ruins and that she would never be employed again as a teacher in the UK.

His words were far from the truth. Indeed she returned to her profession and excelled in it. Some parents are angry that they were not informed of her past when she was appointed to her present post. Indeed many people might question if someone with a terrorism record should be teaching children at all. Others would argue that if a person serves the punishment for past crimes then they should be allowed to continue unhampered with their lives. However, in this instance one may wonder how appropriate it was for her to return to teaching.

Coming to terms with the past raises many questions in Northern Ireland. For many the sight of people who were directly involved in violence taking a seat in government – such as the Deputy First Minister – was difficult to accept, but they did so for the greater good of the province. They accepted the argument that without republicans in government, there could be no lasting settlement. Yet it is understandable that some appointments grate with those who suffered during the Troubles.

While Ms McLaughlin's activities which led to her conviction were reprehensible, she served her due sentence and was entitled to rebuild her life. It would be wrong to suggest that she should be shunned by society for ever after or debarred from earning a living. Yet she must also accept that some parents will be disappointed at her appointment and that they had to learn of her background from this newspaper. Rehabilitation in principle is good but Miss McLaughlin's appointment as vice-principal is perhaps a step too far.

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