The re-emergence of the Colombia Three in Ireland will not cause a crisis in the Northern Ireland peace process, it was claimed today.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said he was "delighted" Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley were back in the country – eight months after a Colombian appeals court sentenced them to 17 years in jail for training FARC guerillas.
But Mr Adams blamed any current crisis on unionists stalling plans to kickstart power-sharing talks in the aftermath of the IRA’s July 28 statement ending its armed campaign.
Mr Adams said of the Colombia Three: “This is not causing a crisis in the peace process.”
“What is causing a crisis in the political process is the refusal or the failure by the unionists to share power with the rest of us at this time.”
Mr Adams said he learned the Colombia Three were back in Ireland shortly before the news became public at 5pm on Friday.
He added: “I’m delighted the three of them are back. I’m delighted for themselves as individuals but I’m especially delighted for their families. They’re back and that’s a good thing.”
Angry unionist politicians have backed a call by Colombia’s Vice President Francisco Santos to extradite the men back to South America.
Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson said: “Those who harbour terrorists are terrorists.”
Tánaiste Mary Harney today also urged people who know where the men are to tell the gardaí.
However Mr Adams insisted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern should uphold the rights of the men as Irish citizens and not to extradite them back to Colombia.
Acknowledging that due process through the courts must be observed, he added: “These men should not be extradited under any circumstances whatsoever.
“Most sensible people, if they’re reasonable about these matters, 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,” he told RTE Radio.
“I would like to think that these three men and their families should be allowed to get on with their lives at this point. They’ve had a very traumatic last number of years.”
“If it goes due process, whatever pressure there is, the Taoiseach of the day should stand up and say: ’we’re not sending these men out of Ireland.'”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said yesterday that the Colombia Three had caused problems within the Northern Ireland peace process since they were seized in Bogota in August 2001 while travelling on false passports.
The Taoiseach said: “Their return has created an enormous amount of difficulties as well. It’s not helpful to the peace process in my view.”