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DEMO HITS AHERN TRIP TO GROTTO; Protest as Irish PM goes on pilgrimage to Carfin.


PROTESTORS disrupted the long-awaited visit by Irish Premier Bertie Ahern to Carfin Grotto last night.

The Taoiseach was visiting the Lanarkshire religious shrine to unveil a monument to the victims of Ireland's potato famine in the 19th century.

But noisy Republican sympathisers ruined the visit by wielding banners and shouting demands to free the so-called Catlerea Five.

They are the men who are being held in a Dublin prison despite qualifying for release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

A heavy police presence was in place as last night's ceremony got under way, with the demonstrators yelling in the background: "Free all political prisoners."

Protest organiser Jim Slaven said: "We only want to see Mr Ahern meet his obligations."

The Taoiseach had originally planned to unveil the monument in February.

But his expected visit to Scotland was called off amid a blaze of political fury after Labour's Motherwell and Wishaw MP Frank Roy intervened.

Roy claimed Celtic fan Ahern's attendance at a crunch Old Firm match the same weekend would spark violence and mar the Carfin ceremony.

The MP later quit as Scots Secretary Helen Liddell's aide after it emerged he had been in the Ancient Order of Hibernians - the Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order.

Ignoring the on-going protest yesterday, Ahern used he speech to pay tribute to the late Cardinal Winning, whose grandfather came from County Donegal.

The Taoiseach said he was an "outstanding example" of the links, qualities and values that Irish people had brought to Scotland, adding: "It was with shock and sadness that I heard of his death on Sunday.

"He was a churchman of international statute and a strong voice for social justice .

"I deeply mourn his passing and I take this opportunity to express my sympathy to the Scottish nation on their great loss."

Protest was never far from Ahern's visit though.

Earlier in the day, veteran Nationalist MSP Winnie Ewing demanded to know why the Union Flag was hoisted next to the Saltire and Tricolour for his visit to the Scottish Parliament.

She claimed its presence was an insult to him as it "represents repression to the people of Ireland".

But Parliament chief executive Paul Grice said it was policy to fly both flags and denied the Irish delegation had taken offence.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 21, 2001
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