'Surrender' of Colombia Three will defuse crisis

Sinn Féin wants to defuse the controversy over the Colombia Three before the political season resumes in early autumn. Hence the decision of the Three to make themselves available to gardaí. While on a personal basis Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership would have welcomed the return of James Monaghan and Martin McCauley – Niall Connolly would be unknown to most in the leadership – they would not have welcomed the political fall-out to their arrival back in Ireland.

The return of the men has been widely – and wrongly – regarded as a calculated affront by Sinn Féin to the political establishment in the immediate aftermath of the IRA statement announcing an end to all military and criminal activity. The return of the men was always likely and it was appreciated there would be a political price to pay for that, but most now believe it was better to get the controversy disposed of sooner rather than later, when negotiations with the governments and the unionists might be at a sensitive stage.

The arrest of Niall Connolly suggests gardaí believe they can prosecute him for a passport offence which they would not bring against the other men. Niall Connolly was the only one of the three to use a false Irish passport and it may transpire it was a passport stolen from the passport office. If that is so, then it might be possible to bring charges against him without running into the obstacle of double jeopardy – that he cannot be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced for the same offence twice. (All three were convicted for using false passports and were sentenced to a term of imprisonment, which they were deemed to have served from the date of their initial arrest.)

That the three have made themselves available to the gardaí also suggests that they have been advised legally there is little or no chance of them being extradited to Colombia or required to serve the 17 year sentences to which they were sentenced by the appeal court there. The fact that they have "surrendered" voluntarily to gardaí may defuse some of the political anger that has been generated by their return.

The men were acquitted of the charge of training FARC terrorists in the use of explosives by the court that tried them originally. The court disbelieved the evidence of two witnesses who gave evidence that they had seen the men provide training on specific dates, when the men were able to show they were elsewhere on the dates in question: Niall Connolly was able to show he was at a dinner in Havana, hosted by an Irish diplomatic official and attended by an Irish Parliamentary delegation on one of the dates mentioned. James Monaghan was able to produce video evidence that he was in Ireland on several of the other dates mentioned.

The acquittals were controversially overturned by the appeal court, which heard no evidence, was not in a position to assess any of the witnesses and did not hear any submissions from the legal representatives representing the prosecuting authority or the defendants. The appeal court believed the evidence of the witnesses, whom the trial judge said should be investigated for perjury. It is unlikely an Irish court would find such a judicial procedure to be safe.

Vincent browne