Govt urges Colombia to allow Irishmen home

The Government has sent official letters to Colombian authorities urging them to allow three Irishmen to return home, it was confirmed today.

The Government has sent official letters to Colombian authorities urging them to allow three Irishmen to return home, it was confirmed today.

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley have been told they cannot leave the country until an appeal against their convictions is heard.

They were found guilty in a Bogota court last month of travelling on false passports but cleared of training Marxist Farc rebels.

The Colombia Attorney General’s office is appealing the not guilty verdicts on the terrorism charges.

Brian Cowen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, said both he and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had sent personal messages to the Colombian president and foreign minister calling for the men to be allowed home.

“We indicated that facilitating the early departure from Colombia of these men was the best way of ensuring their safety,” he told the Dáil.

“I have asked the Colombian authorities to expedite the hearing of the appeal so this case can be concluded as quickly as possible.”

He said all contacts had been made with the full authority of the Government.

The Minister also confirmed that the department had offered up the €17,000 repayable bond necessary to secure their conditional release.

He said the problem was the Government’s lack of ability to interfere with the Colombian judicial system but added that the case would continue to be made in every way possible.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to do its utmost to ensure the safety and well-being of the three men,” he added.

“Given that it’s now gone to the three appeal judges and the previous judge is no longer in the picture, we are unsure to what extent we will be able to convince people that they should be able to come home and return when required - when the appeal is ready to be heard.”

Mr Cowen said he shared concerns about the length of time an appeal could take and said the Government was making its views known in relation to that matter as well.

“Trying to influence the situation for the better remains our top priority and we will continue to do everything we can,” he concluded.

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