The Colombian government has demanded that the Irish government capture and return three Irish republicans who evaded prison sentences in Bogota. The men — dubbed the “Colombia Three” — were sentenced to 17-year jail terms for allegedly assisting FARC rebels in an ongoing campaign against state forces in Colombia.
The three men — Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley — remain in hiding in Ireland but were welcomed home by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Following a highly controversial court trial and appeal, the trio disappeared from view in Colombia. It is unclear how they made their clandestine journey home from South America, but James Monaghan said in a secretly filmed RTE television interview that Irish republican sympathizers had made safe passage possible.
To date, Bogota’s call has gone unheeded in Dublin. Ireland and Colombia do not share an extradition treaty, so there is no legal basis for their return. However, the trio’s surprise re-emergence in Ireland has placed Bertie Ahern’s government in a very awkward position. Despite the dubious nature of court evidence presented against the Irishmen, U.S. President George Bush is a known adversary of the leftist FARC organization. Any association between the Colombia Three and FARC would be viewed with strong disapproval in Washington.
Garda (Irish police) sources suspect the men arrived home in March, and the fact they are still at large is a source of embarrassment at diplomatic level. The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) met with U.S. Ambassador James Kenny to update the situation, but if the men are re-arrested soon in Ireland, it may be even more problematic for Ahern what exactly to do with them.
Should Washington apply pressure to have the men extradited or serve out their jail terms in Ireland, it would be seen as an endorsement of a highly suspect legal administration in Colombia. Their high-profile court hearing and appeal in Bogota reached a divided verdict at odds with the severity of their jail sentences. Even so, the Dublin government is now faced with a diplomatic nightmare on what to do with three “fugitives” with alleged connections to international terrorism.
Their arrival in Ireland also provoked a furious response from Northern loyalists who see the men’s liberty as part of a litany of concessions made to republicans.
Note: As we go to press, the three men remain in Ireland. At the end of August they voluntarily presented themselves at garda stations accompanied by legal representation. After undergoing questioning all were released without charge ♦