McDowell tirade over Colombia 3
McDowell tirade over Colombia 3

Sinn Féin has dismissed comments made by the 26-County Minister for Justice on the Colombia 3 as “his usual anti-republican


Michael McDowell claimed the men’s return was a plot engineered by the Sinn Féin leadership to damage the peace process, and suggested the men could still be extradited to Colombia.

After a lengthy and politically charged trial last year, the men were acquitted of the charges of training FARC guerrillas. The trial judge accused prosecution witnesses of perjury after a deeply flawed prosecution case collapsed.

However, the men were declared guilty by a higher court, without any new evidence, after an appeal by the Colombian prosecutor’s office.

The three, who had endured years in dangerous and difficult prison conditions while awaiting trial, did not return to Colombia and dramatically returned to Ireland last month.

In his first comments on the case since his return from holidays, Mr McDowell said the Irish people should consider “whether the arrival back of these men under these circumstances is not being undertaken with a view to damaging the process of reconciliation” in Ireland.

He claimed the IRA army council, which he said had included Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris, had arranged for the men to go to Colombia to train rebels in the country’s civil war “and who made all the arrangements to get them back.”

In a characteristic anti-republican tirade that drew fire from civil rights groups, Mr McDowell hinted it would be possible to amend the law to send the men back to Colombia to serve the 17-18 year sentences facing them there.

“There would be an expectation internationally that whatever remedies are provided for under international law or domestic law would be fully used to deal with that situation. If there is a case to be made for their extradition to Colombia and if it’s lawful under Irish law, that is something which may well happen.”

While no extradition treaty existed between Colombia and Ireland, he said that one could be put in place.

On Tuesday Colombian vice president Francisco Santos said his government would be seeking the men’s extradition. He said Colombia would “not be satisfied” if they were prosecuted in Ireland only for their admitted offence of using false travel documentation.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home campaign did comment, however. Ms Ruane said she was disappointed at Mr McDowell’s remarks and accused him of acting in a manner that was contrary to the Constitution and prejudicial to the human rights of the Colombia 3.

“The Irish Government at the highest level is aware that the case against these men was fabricated. They were never properly convicted of training Farc in Colombia and were not guilty of that offence,” said Ms Ruane.

She was concerned that Mr McDowell appeared to be saying that the Government could enact legislation to extradite the three men back to Colombia. “He should take legal advice on this matter because our best legal advice is that they cannot be extradited,” she said.

Ms Ruane said she did not agree with the suggestion of Mr McDowell that the men could possibly be imprisoned here for travelling on false passports. “They have already served time in prison in Colombia which would cover any false passport charges,” she said.

The Minister’s assertion that Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and Mr Ferris were directly responsible for the problems caused by the return of the three fugitives, because they were allegedly members of the IRA army council when the decision to train Farc guerrillas was made, “was not worthy of a response”, she said.

Ms Ruane added: “This is a contrived issue. The real urgent issue is to try and get political talks up and running by September. Minister McDowell would be better served doing something for the beleaguered Catholics of north Antrim. I haven’t heard much about that from him.”

Dublin Sinn Féin councillor Daithi Doolan commented: “Minister McDowell’s claim that Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership had anything to do with the men’s trip to Colombia is just pathetic political opportunism, which I wouldn’t even dignify with a response.”

He added: “Michael McDowell’s blatant disregard for the evidence produced at the trial in Colombia, which found the men innocent of the charges levelled against them, certainly puts a question mark over his suitability to be Minister for Justice. Is he seriously suggesting that he accepts the extremely dubious methods used to secure convictions against these men on appeal? Does he believe in secret tribunals overturning the verdict of an open court, which heard all the evidence?

“Is this the system of so-called justice the Minister for Justice and former attorney general would like to see in Ireland? If it is, I suspect most sensible people in this State would be not just concerned about civil and human rights in Colombia, but the implication of the Minister’s comments for civil and human rights in this country.”

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