In August, three Irish men claiming to be tourists, were arrested in Columbia after having apparently taking part in a five week summer training camp with a Columbian terrorist group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (“FARC”).
The three men, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, entered Colombia on false papers claiming to be journalists. They also claimed to be in the demilitarized zone, an area of land under rebel control, to determine the status of peace negotiations between the government and FARC.
Though Sinn Féin sought to distance themselves in the face of Unionist outrage, the three have well-documented links with the Provisional IRA. James Monaghan, convicted in 1971 of planting incendiary bombs in a shop, was included on a Sinn Féin list of “on the run” names during negotiations with the government. He is believed by security forces to be the IRA’s head of engineering. Martin McAuley was wounded by an undercover RUC unit, who shot dead his companion, Michael Tighe, in 1982 — one of the incidents which sparked the shoot-to-kill inquiry. Sinn F?in’s president, Gerry Adams admitted in October that the third man, Niall Connolly, was Sinn Féin’s representative in Cuba.
The men were initially incarcerated in the notorious La Modela prison, where a regime of torture and terror, allegedly, exists and where riots and killings are routine. After the killing of another prisoner, the men were moved to the Dijin interrogation centre, seen as being marginally safer than La Modela. Unlike most jurisdictions, in Colombia, detainees can be held without formal charges being brought against them and the three currently face the prospect of a year’s detention in difficult conditions before being formally charged.
If it is proven that they were indeed on an IRA mission to FARC, it is likely to harm Sinn Féin’s already weakened US standing. Currently, Sinn Féin raises about $700,000 annually in the US. If convicted, the men face sentences of up to 16 years in prison.
The arrest of a fourth Irishman in Colombia in August ended happily for him when he was released and deported after police found no link between him and the three detainees. Kevin Crennan was in Colombia legally and had a genuine passport. He had last been heard of by his overjoyed family in 1994 and returned to Ireland to a joyful family reunion. ♦