Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

15 February 2001 Edition

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Reid implicated in Ahern's Scotland cancellation


The new Secretary of State John Reid, along with Scottish Secretary Helen Liddle, continues to be implicated in the fiasco surrounding the forced cancellation of Bertie Ahern's visit to unveil a famine memorial at Carfin in Lanarkshire. The incident has severely embarrassed the Scottish Labour Party and has again raised the issue of sectarianism in Scotland. Lanarkshire is said to be the heartland of such sectarianism.

Frank Roy, the Labour MP for Motherwell and Wishaw in Lanarkshire, who initiated the row, was forced to resign as parliamentary private secretary to Helen Liddle on Monday when it emerged that he had consulted both Reid and Liddle about his intention to ask the Dublin government to cancel the trip to Carfin. The visit was to take place after Ahern had attended the Celtic v Rangers match at Parkhead on Saturday. Both the Secretary of State and the Scottish Secretary have refused to comment on the matter or clarify their respective roles in the affair, but their alleged involvement would answer the mystery of how a local MP could wield sufficient power to persuade the Taoiseach to cancel such a high-profile event.

The controversy centres on a letter from Frank Roy to the Irish Consul-General in Scotland, Dan Mulhall, faxed on Friday night, which is said to have contained an ultimatum. Carfin Grotto near Belshill has been a peaceful place of pilgrimage for some 80 years, but in the letter Roy insisted that it could become a flashpoint for sectarian violence if Ahern went ahead with the unveiling of a celtic cross to commemorate famine victims.

Further, in the second paragraph, Roy specifically mentioned the fact that he was PPS to Helen Liddell, had been PPS to John Reid before that, and that prior to contacting Mulhall he had raised the matter with both of them. The mention of Reid and Liddle is thought to have been major factor in the decision to cancel the trip.

However, in a telephone conversation between Roy and Mulhall on Monday morning, Roy insisted that he had only learned about the Taoiseach's visit the day before it was due to take place and that he was independently, as the local constituency MP, ``advising'' Ahern not to attend as there was a danger that the event would inflame tensions and lead to ``sectarian riots'' in the wake of the Old Firm match. Roy later denied that he had made his intervention in a fit of pique at not having been invited as a VIP guest to the event.

Also implicated is the Scottish external affairs minister Jack McConnell, who shares a constituency office with Roy. McConnell has refused to comment on the matter but did confirm that he had turned down an invitation to attend the commemoration at Carfin.

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