Irish diplomat, Coiste director testify in Bogota
The trial of the three Irishmen, Niall Connolly, Martin McAuley
and Jim Monaghan continued in Bogota yesterday as the defence
continue to put forward their case against charges of training
A senior Irish diplomat yesterday told the court that she met one
of the defendants in Cuba on a date when the prosecution claims
he was in Colombia.
Before testifying, Ms SIle Maguire, First Secretary at the Irish
Embassy in Mexico, clarified to the court that her authorities
had partially lifted her diplomatic immunity in order for her to
act as a witness. Ms Maguire said she hosted a dinner party at
the Golden Tulip hotel in Havana on January 17th, 2001.
The dinner was attended by a group of Irish parliamentarians and
members of the Irish community resident in the Cuban capital and
included Fine Gael Senator Madeleine Taylor-Quinn, Deputy Ben
Briscoe of Fianna Fail and Deputy Jim O'Keeffe of Fine Gael.
Three Irish residents and their spouses also attended.
Ms Maguire said she had made contact with the Irish residents on
the island through various cultural and ministerial links Ireland
has with Cuba. She told the court she had called Mr Connolly by
telephone the day before the hotel gathering to invite him to
He attended with his Cuban partner. Regarding his activities in
Cuba, Ms Maguire said she believed he worked in manual labour.
She added that at the dinner, there was a lot of conversation and
the Irish group seemed to be "engaging and friendly".
She also said the second time she met Mr Connolly was on August
26th, 2002, in La Modelo prison in Bogota.
Mike Ritchie, Director of Coiste na n-Iarchimi (Committee of
Republican Ex-Prisoners) began his testimony yesterday morning.
Mr Ritchie, who has a Scottish background though born in Aden of
missionary parents, has an extensive knowledge of human rights
and policing issues in Ireland. From 1989 to 1995 he was Research
Officer with the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the
leading human rights Non-Governmental Organisation in the north
In his testimony, Mr Ritchie, who previously worked with the
Committee on the Administration of Justice, a leading human
rights organisation in the north of Ireland, spoke about the
formation of Coiste na n-Iarchimi and his work at developing the
all-Ireland body which acts as an umbrella organisation for 16
local self-help ex-prisoner groups throughout Ireland. He
explained how the groups were set up following the first
ceasefires of 1994 with money from the European Union's Special
Support Package for Peace and Reconciliation; monies that were
specifically allocated for political ex-prisoners, both loyalist
Mr Ritchie said that Jim Monaghan, one of the three accused,
worked for one of the local groups affiliated to Coiste, Tar
Isteach (Come In) based in Dublin -- Jim Monaghan himself being
an ex-prisoner. Mr Ritchie then went on to provide testimony to
show that Jim Monaghan was in Ireland at the time prosecution
witnesses claim he was in Colombia.
He also presented three videos to the court to substantiate his
testimony. In one video, filmed on 7 February, 2001, Jim Monaghan
is seen chairing a discussion in Dublin on the theme of
International conflict resolution with a focus on the Colombian
Mike Ritchie himself was also in the film footage. In another
video filmed on the 21 February, 2001, Jim Monaghan is pictured
with Sean Kinsella, another ex-prisoner; and again on 22 February
taking part in a presentation skills course in Belfast.
Mr Ritchie also submitted sworn affidavits from all of the others
pictured in the videos. Affidavits were also submitted on behalf
of Deirdre Davitt, Deputy Director of Foras na Gaeilge, to
confirm that she had met with Jim Monaghan on the 14 February,
2001 and one on behalf of Hayden Brown Accountancy Firm.
Mr Ritchie then went on to talk about his experience of working
with republican ex-prisoners and how they had a particular
culture, which he had to take note of when building the
organisational structure of Coiste na n-Iarchimi. In particular
he had to allow for flexibility in work programmes as
ex-prisoners did not fit neatly into the 'nine-to-five' model.
In total, eight witnesses for the defence will present evidence
and more than forty sworn affidavits will be submitted.
In a brief statement to the press, the prosecuting lawyer, Mr
Carlos Sanchez, said he did not think the trial was falling
"On the contrary, we have a good case," he told reporters. He
said the prosecution would ask for "an exemplary sentence" for