Colombia Three ‘not under watch since return’

REPORTS that the Colombia Three have been in Ireland and under garda surveillance since March are completely false, Government sources insisted last night.

The secret repatriation of Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan sparked accusations of a secret deal - and swift denials from the Government and Sinn Féin - when revealed last Friday.

Government and Department of Justice sources yesterday also denied weekend reports that the men had been living in a safe house in West Cork since the spring.

“That’s completely false. We have checked with gardaí and it’s not true,” said one senior official.

Officers attached to the Special Detective Unit (SDU) are conducting a search for the three, who have been sentenced to 17 years in prison for training FARC guerrillas in Colombia.

Although no official extradition request has yet been received, Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos has demanded the return of the men citing an active Interpol red notice alert - the highest Interpol alert for wanted criminals.

However, the Irish Examiner understands that in addition to not having an extradition treaty with Colombia, Ireland does not have the appropriate legislation to implement Interpol red notice alerts.

“Most countries have domestic legislation to enable police to arrest on the basis of an Interpol red notice. We don’t have that legislation here,” a senior security source said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said she was “unsure of the position” regarding the Interpol alert but stressed that gardaí “had sufficient powers under a whole range of legislation to draw on”.

However, garda sources indicated they have not yet decided how to deal with the three fugitives and the matter is understood to be the subject of continued debate at the highest level within the force.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said he was delighted at the men’s return and predicted they would never be extradited.

“I’m delighted for themselves as individuals but I’m especially delighted for their families,” he said.

Mr Adams said the three should not be returned under any circumstances. “I think that most sensible people would have a view that the Irish Government has a responsibility to uphold the rights of citizens and that includes the rights of these three Irish citizens.”

University of Limerick law professor Dermot Walsh said he could not see an extradition application being successful.

“The basic answer to that is no,” he said while leaving open the possibility of domestic arrest for other offences.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has requested an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss suspicions that a deal on the Colombia Three was reached during secret meetings with Gerry Adams in the lead up to the IRA’s stand-down.

Meanwhile an opinion poll at the weekend found 45% of all voters would be happy to see Sinn Féin in coalition government following the IRA’s cessation of violence, although 50% of those questioned did not believe IRA members would give up all criminal activity.

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