Thursday, March 24, 2005

More on SDLP fundraising for the McCartneys

Daily Ireland:

Senior SDLP members played a key role in organising the McCartney family’s trip to Washington last week, Daily Ireland can reveal.

The party helped book the flight through a travel agency that is part-owned by Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP deputy leader and assembly member for south Belfast.

The SDLP also used a former member of its youth wing to act as a press officer for the family during their St Patrick’s Day trip.

Until now, the SDLP had denied helping with the arrangements for the family’s trip.

However, when contacted by Daily Ireland yesterday, senior party adviser Tim Attwood admitted to having helped organise their flight by liaising with Arrow Travel, a west Belfast travel agency.

Mr Attwood, who will stand for the SDLP in the forthcoming council elections, insisted he had not paid for the flight to the United States.

“I rang up Arrow Travel and told them that the McCartneys wanted to book their flight there but I didn’t pay for the flight. I just helped them get it and I helped with the logistics of the trip.

“They were able to go on the flight and pay for it when they came back,” said Mr Attwood.

In recent weeks, the SDLP has repeatedly denied playing a role in the McCartney sisters’ meeting with US President George Bush.

Dr McDonnell, a partner in Arrow Travel, admitted he had given the McCartneys credit approval for the trip.

“I was contacted by the manager and asked if I would give the credit approval and I made a decision to do that.

“But I did not tell the McCartney family what to do. I didn’t know that Tim Attwood had anything to do with it,” he said.

Dr McDonnell said he could not remember if he had offered the McCartney family the chance to book their trip through his travel agency.

He added that he would not waive the cost of the flights for the family.

Daily Ireland has also learned that Ruarai McKenna, who acted as the McCartneys’ media officer during their stay in Washington, is a former SDLP activist.

Mr McKenna (24), a corporate fundraiser who now lives in Washington, said Dr McDonnell had asked him to help the family.

“I have known Alasdair McDonnell for a long time and he rang me and asked me to lend the McCartneys some phones.

“I did that and ended up fielding the press inquiries because the sisters were inundated.

“I used to be involved with the SDLP in Queen’s University but left it because there was more life in a cemetery,” he said.

Catherine McCartney, a sister of Robert McCartney, said yesterday that the SDLP had helped with the organisation of the trip. She said the family had been desperate for any help they could get.

“We would have taken help from Osama bin Laden if he had offered. We are desperate to get justice for Robert. That is all we are about.

“Sinn Féin and the SDLP are both fighting for the same nationalist votes but we aren’t interested in that. For us, it is about the campaign for Robert’s killers to be brought to justice.”

Ms McCartney also denied weekend media reports that the family were “skint”. She said money given to the family from relatives and supporters would be used to pay for the trip once the four-week credit period arranged with the travel agency had expired.

“We are not skint. I didn’t say that,’ said Ms McCartney. “The money we have been given will be used to pay for the trip. No one else but us is paying for it.”

Labour Party TD Liz McManus said at the weekend that a legal figure who wished to remain anonymous had pledged to cover the cost of the US visit.

In a Sunday Telegraph ‘diary’ of their US visit last weekend, Gemma McCartney said, “we're skint here. Nobody's paying for us and we don't want anybody to pay for us.”

This probably explains Kennedy's attacks on Gerry Adams since Kennedy has been a long-time supporter of the SDLP.


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