SIR Sean Connery yesterday attacked religious bigotry when he said he was ''extremely disappointed and frustrated'' at the embarrassment caused earlier this year by the forced postponement of a visit to Lanarkshire of Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach.

The actor was invited to the unveiling of the Carfin memorial to Irish and Scottish victims of the great famine, but expressed regret at having to decline because of ''prior commitments''. A spokesman said he was working on the day of the rescheduled ceremony on June 20.

The invitation to the SNP's most celebrated supporter came from the Irish famine commemoration committee in Scotland. It is understood he was invited because organisers regard him not just as the most famous Scot in the world but one who transcends sectarian division.

Of Irish ancestry, Sir Sean was a Celtic supporter in his youth in Edinburgh and a friend of the late Jock Stein, and is now close to David Murray, chairman of Rangers, who helped bring to an end the club's Protestant-only employment policy. The former James Bond star has argued publicly that it is possible to support both traditions in modern Scotland.

The invitation to Sir Sean came from Father Eamonn Sweeney, president of the commemoration committee, whose plans for a February unveiling were wrecked by Frank Roy, Labour MP for Motherwell and Wishaw.

Mr Roy wrote to Mr Ahern suggesting he should reschedule his visit because it clashed with an Old Firm game in Glasgow and that it could cause sectarian unrest.

In the nationwide row which followed, Mr Roy was found to have cited Helen Liddell, secretary of state for Scotland, and her predecessor, Dr John Reid, both Lanarkshire MPs, in his letter to the taoiseach. The inclusion of their names led to his resignation as Ms Liddell's parliamentary private secretary.

Sir Sean told the organisers in a note written on an SNP letterhead that he would be at the Carfin ceremony in spirit. ''Bertie Ahern is a solid friend of Scotland and this occasion has a valuable role to play in developing the close and warm links that exist between the Scottish and Irish peoples.''

He went to on say he was extremely disappointed and frustrated at the circumstances of Mr Ahern's postponed visit.

''It did not reflect the reality of modern Scotland but brought a great deal of adverse publicity to our nation which should never have happened.''

He added: ''Those responsible caused enormous upset at the time but all of Scotland can now come together to give a great Scottish welcome to the taoiseach.''

Opening the #5.7m new Byre Theatre in St Andrews, Sir Sean, the theatre's honorary president, yesterday called for the Scottish Parliament to be granted greater powers.

He said he would return to live in Scotland only when there were ''signs of serious independence''.

He said he would be in Paris taking in the French Open tennis championships on election night.

A Labour spokesman said: ''We agree entirely with Sir Sean Connery's remarks about the importance of the ceremony at Carfin.''