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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Morgan accused of D-Day 'snub'
Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan said Edwina Hart was an appropriate representative
First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been criticised for sending one of his ministers to D-Day commemorations rather than going himself.

Instead, he will be discussing golf's 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort near Newport, which is currently hosting the Wales Open.

The Welsh Assembly Government said it was an annual meeting which had been arranged before the D-Day invitation arrived.

But Conservatives said Mr Morgan should be in Normandy, not Social Justice Minister Edwina Hart.

Mr Morgan told BBC Radio 4 it was "entirely appropriate" that Mrs Hart was to represent Wales at the ceremony.

"We arranged for Edwina Hart to go and she's thrilled to be going," Mr Morgan said.

"It's not as though Wales is not going to be represented at the D-Day 60th anniversary celebrations."

Nick Bourne
Nick Bourne: Morgan 'should honour' Welsh soldiers

Asked if there was any prospect he would change his mind, he said: "None whatsoever".

Mrs Hart, whose father was a World War II RAF veteran, said it would be a "great honour" to represent Wales at the events in Normandy over the weekend.

In a statement, the assembly government said the meeting between Mr Morgan and Celtic Manor owner Sir Terry Matthews was a long-standing commitment.

"This is one of the few opportunities the first minister has to meet Sir Terry throughout the year," it said.

"The first minister feels that Wales will be very ably and appropriately represented by Mrs Hart."

But Nick Bourne, leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, said another minister could attend the Ryder Cup meeting.

"Rhodri Morgan should be representing Wales to honour the Welsh soldiers who fought and died on the beaches of France on D-Day.

"They fought to liberate Europe from the evils of Nazism and extremism and we must never forget that.

"The Ryder Cup is not due to take place in Wales until 2010 so there is plenty of time for Rhodri Morgan to discuss that with Terry Matthews.

"There is no reason why Sports Minister Alun Pugh or another cabinet member could not have represented the assembly government at the Celtic Manor this weekend."

Jack McConnell
Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell had faced fierce criticism

At the United Services Mess in Cardiff - which holds a D-Day dinner on Friday - veterans of several wars voiced their anger at Rhodri Morgan's decision.

Chairman Tony Lewis said the first minister should remember that without those who fought and died, he would not be able to watch a golf match.

The Liberal Democrats also criticised Mr Morgan's decision.

Cardiff Central AM Jenny Randerson said: "I am surprised that Rhodri Morgan has decided that the Wales Open golf is more important than joining other world leaders in attending the commemorative events in Normandy.

'See the light'

"His opposite number in Scotland Jack McConnell can see that attending is the right thing to do and I hope our first minister will also see the light.

"On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, there is only one place for Wales' first minister to be and that is in France."

A Plaid Cymru spokesman said: "It's a matter for Rhodri Morgan as first minister for Wales to decide where his priorities lie.

"But many people in Wales will be very surprised that he prefers to attend a sport-related event when these commemorations are taking place in Normandy."

The row has echoes in the Scottish Parliament.

On Friday, Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell reversed his decision not to attend the D-Day events following criticism from veterans and opposition politicians.

He had been due to attend a 250th anniversary golf club dinner at St Andrews and was sending his finance minister Andy Kerr in his place.

However, he changed his mind after the protests, saying: "Given the legitimate concerns expressed by decent families here in Scotland, I think that is the right thing to do."


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