Irish Republican News · August 7, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: WELCOME HOME
WELCOME HOME

Joy for Colombia 3 families

Caitriona Ruane, who led the ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign for the Colombia 3, described the moment when the families were reunited as “one of the memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life”.

Ms Ruane, now a Sinn Féin assembly member for South Down, said that the three men and their families had endured “a terrible ordeal”.

Since August 2001, the lives of the three -- Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly -- had been in grave danger. Arrested in Bogota in a blaze of anti-republican propoganda, the men were charged with involvement in Colombia’s civil war.

Their prospects of justice were undermined due to prejudicial comments from the Colombian military and senior politicians, including the then president.

During a lengthy trial the prosecution case collapsed before the world’s media and the trial judge found the men innocent of all serious charges. Incredibly, this verdict was overturned by a secret appeals procedure and the men were subsequently sentenced to lengthy jail terms in their absence.

They have been ‘on-the-run’ for more than 18 months.

Earlier this week, the men made contact with Ms Ruane after arriving back in Ireland. Ms Ruane then arranged for the men’s families to visit them.

On Friday, it emerged that the three men finally arrived home in Ireland after a journey from Colombia that began almost four years ago.

It was left to the eldest of the famous trio, Jim Monaghan, to publicly comment on their ordeal.

In an interview with Irish television, Mr Monaghan denied that he and his comrades had been engaged in any illegal ‘terrorist training’ at Bogota Airport .

Caitriona Ruane said the men and their families had endured “a terrible ordeal”.

“Between them they have eight children, some of whom they haven’t seen for four years. They have suffered incredibly.

“The trial lasted seven and a half months. It was open and transparent.

“The world media were present, as were international observers and when Judge Acosta found them innocent, he also ruled that the only two so-called prosecution eyewitnesses should be investigated for perjury,” Ms Ruane said.

Ms Ruane also acknowledged the attentiveness of the Irish government, specifically Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, who were “very aware of the dangers facing the men”.

Speaking from Dublin, Niall Connolly’s brother, Dan, said that their 80-year-old mother Madeline was “absolutely delighted” by the news.

“We would like to thank Catriona Ruane and Peter Madden, as well as the lawyers in Colombia, the observers, the politicians and all the supporters who showed any interest in the case.

“We would hope that the Irish government would stand by the men now that they are home.

“Thankfully this is the end of one ordeal. We just hope it is not the start of another,” Mr Connolly said.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams welcomed the news. Mr Adams said he learned the Colombia Three were back in Ireland shortly before the news became public at 5pm on Friday.

He added: “I’m delighted the three of them are back. I’m delighted for themselves as individuals but I’m especially delighted for their families. They’re back and that’s a good thing.”

Hardline unionists in the North and right-wing politicians in the 26 COunties have urged that the men be extradited back to Colombia.

However Mr Adams insisted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern should uphold the rights of the men as Irish citizens.

Acknowledging that due process through the courts must be observed, he added: “These men should not be extradited under any circumstances whatsoever.

“Most sensible people, if they’re reasonable about these matters, would have a view that the Irish Government has a responsibility to uphold the rights of citizens, and that includes the rights of these three Irish citizens,” he told Irish Radio.

“I would like to think that these three men and their families should be allowed to get on with their lives at this point. They’ve had a very traumatic last number of years.”

“If it goes due process, whatever pressure there is, the Taoiseach of the day should stand up and say: ‘we’re not sending these men out of Ireland.’”

Mr Adams also scotched speculation that the return of the Colombia Three was part of the current political negotiations.

He added: “This is not causing a crisis in the peace process.”

“What is causing a crisis in the political process is the refusal or the failure by the unionists to share power with the rest of us at this time.”

Independent TD for Dublin North Central, Finian McGrath, acted as an observer at the trial of the Colombia Three. He also visited the men in prison in Bogota.

Mr McGrath said that anyone wanting the men sent back to Colombia “needs their heads examined”.

“As someone interested in this case from a personal and humanitarian point of view, I welcome the fact that they got home and I apologise to no one for that.

“They should now stay in Ireland, and I challenge anyone - inside or outside the law - in relation to extradition.”

NO DEAL

Claims that the return of the Colombia 3 had caused a crisis in the peace process have been dismissed by Sinn Féin.

“What is causing a crisis in the political process is the refusal or the failure by the unionists to share power with the rest of us at this time,” said Gerry Adams.

He also denied that the return of the Colombia Three was part of the current political negotiations.

However, unionists were surprisingly incensed by the men’s return, demanding the Irish government return the men or stand accused of “harbouring international terrorists”.

In their eyes, recent moves by the British government to reduce its military presence in Ireland was seamless with the mens’ sudden return, all part of a “a sordid deal”.

“The anger and feeling of betrayal in the unionist community is palpable,” said Paisleyite assembly member Edwin Poots.

“We are being stripped of all protection and are vulnerable to any renewed campaign from republicans.”

The DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, was also outraged: “If Bertie Ahern fails to hand these men over, then in President Bush’s and our terms, he is a terrorist collaborator,” he declared.

SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood was more muted, but still appeared caught up in a wave of excited reaction.

He said the Colombia Three had done “huge damage” to the peace process. “These men were clearly up to no good.”

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny demanded an immediate statement from the Irish government and called on them “to clarify whether this issue was part of the negotiations between the Government and Sinn Féin”.

But a spokesman for the Taoiseach said the ‘Colombia Three’ were not discussed with Sinn Féin in the run-up to last week’s statement by the IRA.

He also said Mr Ahern and the government had “no prior knowledge” of the return of the men.

The government has said it would consider any request made by the Colombian authorities.

However, legal experts have cast serious doubts that an extradition is possible, due to the absence of an extradition agreement and Colombia’s poor record on human rights.

© 2005 Irish Republican News