Helen Liddell in the Press

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Demand for answers in Carfin affair


NATIONALISTS and Tories continued their pursuit of Helen Liddell and John Reid yesterday, demanding to know more of their roles in the fiasco which led to the resignation of Frank Roy as the Scottish secretary's private aide.

Ms Liddell is expected to announce soon the appointment of Mr Roy's replacement as her parliamentary private secretary. Two names in the frame are Des Browne, MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, and Jim Murphy, MP for Eastwood.

Mr Roy quit on Sunday, without offering an apology for his behaviour in taking it on himself to advise the Irish government to block the visit to the Carfin grotto by Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach.

He offered his resignation after revelations in The Herald that he had cited Ms Liddell and Dr Reid in his fax to the Irish government. It was accepted after he caused another row by falsely accusing Dan Mulhall, the Irish consul general in Edinburgh, of leaking the fax to The Herald.

John Swinney, leader of the SNP, said he would be tabling an emergency question in the Scottish Parliament demanding a statement from Jack McConnell, education minister, who represents Mr Roy's constituency in Holyrood.

Mr McConnell's reticence was the subject of veiled criticism by Peter MacMahon, press adviser to Henry McLeish, first minister, in a leaked message. Mr MacMahon said in an internal memo: "On the Jack front, perhaps the minister himself has something he could say."

Mr Swinney said a statement was needed as a matter of urgency from Mr McConnell, in his capacity as Scottish minister for external affairs and the local MSP.

He quoted reports that, after pulling out of the visit, Mr McConnell, a close friend of Mr Roy, had privately raised concerns that the unveiling could be "dangerous". Mr McConnell was also said to have briefed journalists in an attempt to defend Mr Roy's actions.

This, said Mr Swinney, was in direct contravention of his ministerial responsibilities and contradicted the first minister who said on Thursday that the executive was not involved in the taoiseach's private visit and had nothing to do with his cancellation.

"Jack McConnell has not yet denied these reports, which directly contradict the first minister's response last week," said Mr Swinney. "It would be absolutely unforgivable if Jack McConnell had kept the first minister and the rest of the Scottish cabinet in the dark about this Labour party mess, or played any role in it himself."

Ms Liddell yesterday moved to distance herself from the row as George Foulkes, her deputy, stood by to answer parliamentary questions on the debacle.

Mr Foulkes, who has accused the SNP and the Tories of "deliberately trying to stir things up" was on his way to Westminster yesterday to answer parliamentary questions from the Tories, but turned back at Glasgow Airport when he discovered the questions were withdrawn.

Mr Dominic Grieve, the Tories' constitutional spokesman, was in Wales, unable to reach the Commons in time to ask the questions.

Mr Foulkes insisted he would have been more than happy to confirm to the Commons that Ms Liddell was not consulted in advance before Mr Roy wrote to the Irish government advising it to call off the visit.

Mr Foulkes defended Mr Roy's right to act as a constituency MP, but he insisted the Lanarkshire MP was not acting on advice from the recently appointed Scottish secretary.

Ms Liddell was annoyed at being dragged into the row, which marred her second week in office, but she was confident her official invitation to Mr Ahern would make amends for any disappointment, diplomatic speak for anger and frustration.

Last night, Mr Ahern's spokesman confirmed the Tsoieach would be delighted to visit Scotland in both personal and public capacities.

Mr Grieve last night insisted Scotland's good name had been "dragged through the mud" by the Roy affair. He said he was intent on trying again today to raise the matter in the House.

"Frank Roy has become the scapegoat but many questions remain unanswered," said Mr Grieve, the MP for Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

He dismissed as "rubbish" the Labour charge that he was seeking to use Commons procedures for party political ends.

The taoiseach's visit must have been officially cleared, he argued, which meant there had to have been some "government in-put". Mr Grieve said: "We are entitled to an explanation. The Irish are very upset about this."

-Feb 13th