Unionists and Gardai head to Colombia
The Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said the plight of the
Colombia Three now rests with the legal process -- even as
unionist hardliners and Ahern's Minister for Justice campaign
for their prosecution.
The three men -- Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin
McCauley -- are accused of helping to train rebels in Colombia's
civil war. Arrested in Bogota airport in 2001 and jailed
throughout a lengthy trial, the men admitted using false
passports but were cleared on the main charges. The men
subsequently left Colombia before their acquittal was
dramatically and inexplicably overturned by a higher court. If
extradited, the men face sentences in Colombia of up to twenty
Although no extradition agreement exits, unionist hardliners
have accused the Dublin government of "harbouring terrorists".
Meanwhile, two Garda police officers are to leave for Colombia
on Wednesday at the apparent insistence of the right-wing
26-County Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell. McDowell's
determination that the men should be extradited under new
legislation, or else face jail time in Ireland, has been
strongly criticised by human rights advocates.
The decision to send gardai came after two days of contradictory
statements from Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and the
Garda's senior spokesman.
On Wednesday, Mr McDowell briefed the Cabinet to the effect that
the Garda would "probably" visit Colombia, only for the Garda
counter that such a trip was merely one of many "possible"
On Thursday morning, Mr McDowell said such a visit was now
"certain", only for the spokesman for Garda Commissioner Noel
Conroy to indicate that it was not, and that the decision had
not been made on whether or not to send officers.
Last month, Mr McDowell and his Progresive Democrats party were
annoyed that the Gardai released the three men after they
presented themselves for questioning.
The gardai are reported to be irritated at Progressive Democrat
demands for "action" in the case. These included demands that
the men be arrested, when there appeared to be no legal basis
for their arrest.
It is also understood that gardai were irritated at Mr
McDowell's demands for detailed briefings on the investigation,
which they believe suggested the investigation was under
The Progressive Democrats have accused Sinn Fein of
orchestrating the men's return to Ireland in a "blaze of
Sinn Fein's Dublin MEP Marylou McDonald this week denied her
party had advance knowledge of the men's return.
"To kind of endow Sinn Fein with the abilities to stage manage
all of this is rather overstating things, to be perfectly
frank," she said in a newspaper interview.
She said the general public was relieved that the men had not
come to any harm. "I think the return home of the men did not
create a crisis in the peace process. I simply don't accept
that. I think certainly if you have over-reaction and
grandstanding on the issue you could, of course, unsettle
things. I know that that is the last thing that we need in this
point in time."
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Donaldson of Ian Paisley's DUP party has
arrived in Colombia with a unionist lobby group to campaign for
the extradition of the Colombia Three.
Donaldson said he felt a bond with the victims of the Colombian
rebels and described the three Irishmen as part of an
"international network of terrorism".
Donaldson is to lobby the Colombian government to send members
of a Colombia lobby group to visit Ireland so that they can
campaign for the men's extradition.
"We want to support the Colombian government in their quest to
have the three men extradited," Donaldson said. "If you have
international network of terrorism exchanging training and
expertise why can't you have an international network of victims
working to help each other?"
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly has accused Donaldson of
engaging in a cheap propaganda stunt in travelling to Colombia
-- and challenged his party to come clean over their role in the
importation of arms from South Africa that led to the murder of
Mr Kelly said: "This latest stunt is in stark contrast to the
failure of unionist leaders to tackle the 100 plus attacks
carried out by loyalists against the nationalist community over
the last two and a half months.
"Rather than using the return of the Colombia Three to distract
people the DUP should deal with the very real crisis in the
political process created by the failure of unionists to deal
with unionist paramilitary violence.
"Jeffery Donaldson is travelling over 5000 miles yet he won't
deal with loyalist violence on his doorstep."