JUST over five years after quitting her cabinet post when her past as a member of the IRA was revealed, Councillor Maria Gatland has returned to the council's Conservative front bench. She was this week named the new shadow cabinet member for children, families and learning. Cllr Gatland, who represents Croham ward, resigned from her post as cabinet member for education the day after her membership of the IRA in her youth was revealed by veteran Croydon Communist Peter Latham during public question time at a meeting of the council in December 2008. She also quit the Tory party after an initial uproar about her having kept her past secret when she went up for selection as a councillor. But she was soon reinstated when it became apparent from Government sources that she had been told to keep quiet because her life was in danger. Cllr Gatland had written a book in 1973 about her year in the IRA in which she was critical of the organisation. Since then, she has been rebuilding her political career in Croydon and during the last Conservative administration, served as chairman of the licensing committee. Cllr Mike Fisher, the Croydon Conservative group leader, said: "Maria was a good cabinet member and I am pleased to have her back on our front bench." Cllr Gatland said this week she was "delighted with her new role". She added: "It is a huge portfolio and it is vital that improvements in schools continue and I will hold the new administration to account on that." Cllr Gatland hoped her appointment would be another step in moving away from her past, adding: "It was a year of my life I can never change." Other shadow cabinet appointments announced by Cllr Fisher this week are: Housing, Cllr Dudley Mead; regeneration and economic development, Cllr Jason Perry; culture, leisure and sport, Cllr Tim Pollard; people and communities, including adult social care, Cllr Margaret Mead; Clean Green Croydon, Cllr Phil Thomas; transport and environment; Cllr Vidhi Mohan; safety and justice, Cllr Jason Cummings; finance and treasury, Cllr Steve O'Connell.
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