The Irish Taoiseach was today officially invited to Scotland after he pulled out of a visit this weekend following advice from a Labour MP.
Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, had planned to attend a Catholic landmark shortly after Sunday’s match between Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers but abandoned the private trip after fears were raised about sectarian violence.
Frank Roy, the local Labour MP where the ceremony was due to take place, contacted the Irish government to voice the concerns.
During First Minister’s question time in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Henry McLeish, sought to mend diplomatic bridges with the Irish by inviting Mr Ahern to attend at a later date.
The First Minister said: ‘‘Any visit of the Taoiseach would have been warmly welcomed. We have very strong links with Ireland and we want retain them.
‘‘I will be extending a formal invitation to the Taoiseach to join with me to discuss issues not only of importance to the two nations but also in relation to a possible sporting visit and indeed to continue the visit planned for this weekend.’’
Mr Ahern had planned to watch the vital Glasgow Old Firm league derby on Sunday afternoon before visiting a Roman Catholic religious grotto at Carfin, Lanarkshire, to unveil a cross in memory of victims of the Irish famine in the 19th century.
The Irish Prime Minister’s spokesman confirmed the visit had been postponed but said Mr Ahern still planned to visit Scotland at a later date.
Last night’s Old Firm CIS Insurance Cup semi final tie at Hampden Park saw a total of 41 arrests before, during and after the match which Celtic won 3-1.
The clash between the two teams on Sunday is being viewed as a crunch match in the race for the Scottish Premier League.
Mr Roy, MP for Motherwell and Wishaw and a former aide of Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid, said: ‘‘There was an Old Firm game last night and there could be some bad blood carried over to Sunday.’’
He said he thought Mr Ahern had been badly advised over the planned visit.
Meanwhile the Scottish Tories claimed the cancellation of the weekend visit would be viewed as a ‘‘victory for bigots’’ which had been brought about by Mr Roy and Dr Reid ‘‘pressing the panic button’’.
Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie said that as public order was a devolved matter, the Scottish Executive should have been consulted.
‘‘I fear, however, that it has been decided over the heads of Henry McLeish and Jim Wallace (Scottish Deputy First Minister),’’ he said.
‘‘We hear a lot from them about working in partnership with Westminster. This, however, demonstrates that it is not working in practice. They should get their acts together.’’
Liberal Democrat backbencher Donald Gorrie likewise accused Mr Roy of ‘‘stoking the fires of bigotry’’.
‘‘Those few morons on either side of the Rangers-Celtic feud who are liable to become violent will feel more justified in their silence,’’ said Mr Gorrie, MSP for Central Scotland region.
‘‘Celtic fans will feel snubbed and Rangers fans will see another Irish plot.
‘‘If there was a problem it could have been sorted out privately in December.
‘‘Mr Roy’s self-seeking publicity has damaged Scotland’s good name internationally.’’