‘We returned as soon as we were able to’

“I’M back, and I would hope that I’ll be left in peace.”

The astonishing words of 58-year-old fugitive Jim Monaghan announcing the return of the Colombia Three to an astounded Charlie Bird of RTÉ.

The remarkable interview from the thin, pale and obviously nervous Donegal man left the political establishment on both sides of the Border reeling.

Turning common sense on its head, as calls began for his immediate arrest, the eldest member of the Colombia Three insisted he was not on the run.

“I wouldn’t be giving this interview. I’m back and I would hope that I’ll be left in peace... The Taoiseach asked that we be sent back when we were awaiting on the appeal - so I hope they will continue in that vein.”

But, sporting a fresh goatee beard with his grey hair apparently dyed ginger, Monaghan denied any knowledge of a deal with Sinn Féin.

“No, not that I’m aware of. There hasn’t been any deal of any sort. We returned as soon as we were able to return,” his soft wavering voice said.

There were no details of how three men, with an interpol arrest warrant on their heads, could travel undetected from Colombia to Ireland.

That would endanger those involved, he said, adding to the mounting sense of mystery surrounding this whole affair.

Almost as if it were the last thing on his mind he added: “If it’s a case that the guards or someone wants to talk to us - or wants to talk to me - that’s all right.”

He denied that the men, accused of training FARC guerrillas as IRA members, had been involved in any such activity.

“Yes, categoric, with my hand on my heart. I didn’t go to train the FARC. I went because of the peace process,” he said, adding that he was interested in it because of the North’s own process.

He tactfully declined to comment on the FARC and their tactics saying he didn’t want to condemn any particular group. But he did accuse the Americans of “going out of their way to produce false evidence” against the three.

Then perhaps the most extraordinary three minutes of TV footage in years of peace process set pieces ended with a half-hearted plea.

“Obviously I will get legal advice but as far as I’m concerned the Government would be very, very remiss to send anyone to a country like Colombia.”

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