A bitter row has erupted between David Trimble, new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the pro vice chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast. Mr Trimble said the appointment of Mary McAleese at Queen's had been a political decision to improve the university's image.
But Mrs McAleese, the first Catholic and first woman to occupy the position, counter-attacked by charging the MP with sour grapes. The war of words featured in a television programme broadcast in the province this week during which Mrs McAleese responded to a supposed obituary on her life.
During the obit Mr Trimble, who was elected leader following the resignation of Jim Molyneaux, said he was not concerned with Mrs McAleese's appointment as director of the Institute of Legal Studies almost 10 years ago, but with her later promotions to professor and pro vice chancellor. He said: "It was quite remarkable that she was given a chair when she did not have the normal academic record that people have for chair appointments.
"Then to be selected as one of three pro vice chancellors was highly significant and was, and is, perceived as a deliberate political decision . . . to give a different im-age to the university. It was felt this was a response to political nationalism and to some extent to pressure from Dublin and elsewhere."
But, in the programme called If I Should Die, Mrs McAleese suggested Mr Trimble has "a major problem" because she defeated him for the job as director of the Institute of Legal Studies in 1987.
She said: "This is disingenuous of Mr Trimble. The truth of the matter is that the same gentleman had a major problem with my appointment as director.
"There were two candidates short-listed for that job - I was one and he was the other. I leave it to people to make up their own minds. Except to say that within a week of my appointment as director there were ten questions tabled at Westminster by a member of his party about my appointment.
"The distillation of those questions was really - 'why was this Roman Catholic getting this job?'."
She added later: "I think we all know that there is a type of unionist who simply cannot bear the thought of any Catholic getting anywhere on their own merits. It is a frightening prospect for them."
Professor Leslie Clarkson, senior pro vice chancellor at Queen's, said: "All of Professor McAleese's appointments were made according to established procedures. All of Mr Trimble's allegations on this matter are not worthy of further comment."
Mr Trimble is currently a part-time lecturer in law at Queen's.