The Government is considering using Irish legislation to allow the Colombia Three to serve their prison sentences in Ireland, it emerged tonight.
The alleged IRA members unexpectedly appeared in Ireland last week after eight months on the run from 17-year jail terms handed down by Colombian courts for training rebels.
Tánaiste Mary Harney tonight warned Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley that they “should not underestimate the Government’s determination to explore all the options open to it to ensure that Ireland continues to play its full part in the fight against international terrorism”.
She added that the trio were "no friends of the [Northern Ireland] peace process" and insisted again that no deal had been done with Sinn Féin on their return to Ireland before the IRA’s July 28 statement ending its armed campaign.
Deputising for Justice Minister Michael McDowell who is abroad, Ms Harney added: “The question of the three men serving their sentences here in Ireland in the event of extradition proceedings being unsuccessful is one of the issues which the Government has been considering.”
She pointed out the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003, currently going through the Dáil, which deals with situations where a sentenced person has fled the state where they were convicted and has returned to their State of nationality.
“It provides, in effect, for a person to serve here the sentence imposed in the state from which that person has fled,” explained Ms Harney.
The provisions of the Bill will apply before or after it is signed into law, she added.
Garda enquiries into where the alleged IRA members are hiding and whether they breached Irish laws were continuing, Ms Harney said.
It earlier emerged that Bogota police had contacted gardaí on the issue but no extradition has been sought yet.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has dispatched his Mexico-based Ambassador to Colombia to meet the Colombian government "to set out the Irish legal and political context" of the affair.
Minister of State at the Justice Department Brian Lenihan said today: “I understand an element of contact has been made but there has been no request to date for an extradition.
“I think it’s important to appreciate that the Gardaí are examining the position under Irish law because (if) any question of extradition arises, the whole question of whether any offence has been committed under Irish law has to be considered in the first instance.
Earlier Government backbencher Noel Grealish said the alleged IRA trio should serve out the 17-year prison terms imposed by Colombian courts last December, in Irish prisons.
Last Friday the men plunged the Northern Ireland peace process into difficulties and soured Irish relations with Britain, Colombia and the US after they resurfaced in Ireland following eight months on the run.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed the return of the men – just a week after the IRA’s statement ending its armed campaign – and said they should now be "left in peace" with their families.
Unionist politicians and Colombian authorities insist that the trio should be immediately extradited to Bogota from Ireland, but no such legal agreement exists between the countries.
Last December an appeal court in Colombia reversed an original acquittal and sentenced the men to 17 years in prison for training FARC guerillas in urban terrorist techniques.
The trio were arrested at Bogota’s El Dorado Airport in August 2001 as they boarded a flight out of the country.
Mr Grealish said today: “The three men are convicted of criminal activity or wrongdoing in Colombia, and I think they should serve their term in prison here in the Irish Republic.”
“I don’t think they should return to Colombia. They have broken the law and travelled on false passports,” he added.
Mr Grealish said that the re-emergence of the Colombia Three was carefully orchestrated by Sinn Féin.
Jim Monaghan told RTE that the men had arrived “in the last few days” and that he was happy to talk to gardaí.
Mr Grealish said: “I think this was all cleverly staged by Sinn Féin and the Colombia Three.
“The timing was perfect because all Government TDs, all backbenchers, all Opposition TDs are on their summer recess.”