Unionists have expressed anger after a school in Londonderry named the Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson its ‘past pupil of the day’.
St Cecilia’s College, a Catholic-maintained girls’ secondary, posted an image to Twitter of Ms Anderson, a convicted IRA bomber, alongside the words ‘aspire’, ‘endeavour’ and ‘achieve’ .
The decision attracted intense criticism from unionists, who say a convicted terrorist is unfit to be a role model for children.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton told the News Letter: “I find it very disappointing that the school has decided to put this message out.
“Anybody who knows Martina Anderson will know that she is very unrepentant of her past. She was involved in terrorism and she was in prison for that.
“She was subsequently released under the Good Friday Agreement but she is an unrepentant terrorist.”
Mr Middleton continued: “It is a very worrying sign when schools are portraying that type of image as something to aspire to. I think that it actually causes great hurt to the many victims of the IRA.”
Mr Middleton said he was hopeful the decision to name Ms Anderson ‘past pupil of the day’ does not detract from what he called the “good work done in the city over recent years” between local schools.
He added: “I hope that work continues, but unfortunately this is sending out the wrong message.”
The Foyle MLA continued: “While she may now be a member of the European Parliament, the fact remains that she did cause significant hurt through her actions when she was involved in terrorism.
“This is wrong whether it be any type of parliamilitary, or any type of person who was engaged in terrorism, not simply because it was the IRA. I appreciate that in the society we live in, there are many people who have troubled pasts. But in recent years Martina has been very unapologetic about the role that she played.”
Mr Middleton added: “This isn’t about having a go at the school. I think there is a wider conversation to be had here about how we address the past and how people who were involved in the Troubles are presented to our young people.”
DUP Councillor David Ramsey, responding on Twitter to the school’s post, wrote that it was “ridiculous, shameful” and “shocking that a school would use a ruthless terrorist as a role model”.
He asked: “What message does this send to IRA victims?”
Sinn Féin, however, described Ms Anderson as “a first-class public representative”.
A spokesperson for the party said: “We welcome the fact that the school has recognised former pupil Martina Anderson.
“Martina is a first-class public representative who achieved so much for so many. As an MLA, former Minister and MEP she has worked hard in the interest of all citizens and is currently campaigning for special status for the north to remain within the European Union.”
The News Letter has asked St Cecilia’s and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools for comment, but no reply has yet been received.