DERRY — The three Irish Republican Army (IRA) men who re-emerged in Ireland eight months after disappearing from Colombia, where they were due to face 17 years in prison, remain missing in Ireland.
The whereabouts of Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley – dubbed “The Colombian Three” – are still unknown six days after they revealed their return to an Irish television station.
The men were sentenced to 17 years in prison in Colombia, convicted after an initial acquittal was overturned of training leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and of travelling on false passports.
The Colombian vice-president and unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for the men to be extradited to Colombia to face their sentences.
Sinn Féin, the political partly linked to the IRA, which only two weeks ago made a public statement ending its 30-plus-year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, has called for the men to remain in Ireland. Sinn Féin believes that the men did not receive a fair trial and that their security would be jeopardized by returning them to Colombia.
In an interview with ISN Security Watch late on Wednesday, Ian Paisley Jr., a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) representative in Northern Ireland’s now-suspended devolved assembly, said: “If the Republic of Ireland wants to be viewed as a modern and progressive state, it has an urgent responsibility to ensure that these people are brought to justice.”
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney on Wednesday said the option remained open for the men to serve their sentences in Ireland.
Paisley Jr. said that while that was not his party’s preferred option, the Republic of Ireland should, in the least, charge the three men with travelling on false passports, irrespective of the terrorism-related charges.
Ireland has no extradition treaty with Colombia, and the legal obstacles to seeing the men return to Colombia are formidable.
Harney earlier called on the men to make themselves available to Gardaí – the Irish police service.
The men are believed to staying at an IRA “safe house” somewhere in the south of the country.
The political ramifications for the Irish government are potentially significant.
Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland have said referred to the situation as a test case for Dublin, saying that the Irish government could not appear soft on terrorism in today’s global climate.
Paisley Jr. said the Republic should not want to “be judged as a place where fugitives from justice could hide”.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who cut short a holiday to assess the situation, sent senior officials to brief the US ambassador and British chargé d’affaires in an attempt to pre-empt any diplomatic fallout from the affair.Show