The three men are on the run, but God knows where they will end up

I DON’T know what the penalty is for travelling into this country on a false passport, but it must be considerably better than 17 years in a Colombian jail.

It would appear that that’s the worst the three amigos recently arrived from Colombia can be charged with under Irish law, which seems to be the only legal process they have to fear at the moment.

‘Thanks, but no thanks’ would be their response to an offer of long-haul travel anywhere near that part of the world.

It would seem that at this stage, if they keep their heads down, which should come easily, the three boys have nothing to worry about because the gardaí haven’t a clue as to their whereabouts, at least up to the time of writing.

Of course, anything could happen. The gardaí could have as big a stroke of luck as that woman who won the €115 million in Limerick.

In the middle of this international legal conundrum presented to the Government, Enda Kenny came up with a suggestion which could genuinely give Pat Rabbitte serious second thoughts about coalition with the Fine Gael leader.

Bertie Ahern, he said during the week, should immediately direct members of his own parliamentary party to come forward with any information they might have. He stopped short of suggesting Bertie should offer them a reward for information received.

There are any number of interpretations, or allegations, a person could read into Mr Kenny’s remarks about the senior ranks of the Soldiers of Destiny - none of them too complimentary.

Letting these aside, basically what he’s saying is that somebody in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party may be able to help the gardaí with their inquiries, but won’t. Maybe they want to hang on to their kneecaps.

I don’t know, and Enda Kenny didn’t give any hint, but to come up with that idea would suggest he’s got a little titbit himself. He must certainly have his suspicions. But suspicions aren’t enough, even if in time they may prove to have been justified. After all, Bertie Ahern failed to get any evidence on Ray Burke, and that was after climbing every tree in north Dublin.

Locating missing persons isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world - especially those who don’t want to be found.

It’s easy to appreciate why the regime in Colombia has gone almost as ballistic as the unionists at the sudden reappearance on home soil of James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly.

Some of the unionists, and all of the loyalists, will go ballistic at the beat of a Lambeg drum, but the vaguest hint that something could scupper the peace process or, more particularly, sharing power with republicans is to be grasped.

No sooner had Charlie Bird shouted the news at us about the Colombia Three’s arrival home than it was decided by the DUP that a deal had been done.

The assurances from Bertie Ahern and Tánaiste Mary Harney that no deal was done only served to convince those boys that the Republic was a haven for terrorists. The three Irish amigos were ungracious enough to skip the charms of that country which wanted to show them hospitality for the best part of 20 years and they felt, wrongly, that they were overstaying their welcome.

The Colombian vice-president, Francisco Santos Calderon, when politely requesting the Government here to return them from whence they came, via the scenic route, was at pains to reassure us on his country’s record with regard to human rights.

Well, he didn’t dwell too long on it. What he said was that any reluctance to send the men back due to Colombia’s human rights record was “just smoke and mirrors”.

Read what you like into the fact that he said the men were “treated a lot better than most prisoners”, but I get the impression that “most” do not enjoy the same standards as they do in Castlerea.

Amnesty International, on the other hand, is more forthcoming.

Human rights activists have been killed, ‘disappeared,’ detained, threatened and harassed.

While expressing an interest in maintaining dialogue with non-governmental organisations, in practice Colombian officials and some sectors of the media frequently treated the defenders of human rights as subversives, targeting them during intelligence and counter-insurgency operations.

FROM the safety of west Cork, or wherever they are not on the run, that may not sound too convincing to the three lads who, after all, are familiar with the same track record. Not that anybody would suggest they are human rights activists, or take too seriously their claim that they were there to observe the peace process in Colombia.

On the other hand, they were originally acquitted of training FARC guerrillas in urban terrorist techniques, even though that verdict was subsequently overturned.

So, it could be said that they had an each-way docket on that one.

Now, in wanting them returned, Colombia has got its tongue in its cheek to a certain extent, because it has a bit of a laissez-faire attitude to international agreements itself. Colombia ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on August 5, 2002, and on the very same day the then president, Andres Pastrana, invoked Article 124 of that statute.

This allows a country not to submit those accused of war crimes to the ICC for seven years. Once this period is over, only war crimes committed after the seven-year moratorium can be submitted to the ICC.

By contrast, they now want Ireland to invoke a treaty that doesn’t even exist, although they haven’t formally asked that the three men be extradited, but that’s what they mean.

By now, every bar-room lawyer is an expert on the non-existent extradition treaty between both countries.

I thought a way around that was the fact that an international warrant had been issued by Interpol and it was just a matter of the gardaí catching the lads and setting the process in train.

While there is such a warrant out for them, this is merely an agreement to recognise the national warrants of other countries.

As far as Ireland is concerned, it doesn’t mean a thing in this case because we do not have the equivalent laws, or an extradition agreement, to give it force.

Without them, the chances of the courts granting the gardaí an Irish warrant are about the same as the GAA agreeing to host the next Munster rugby match in Semple Stadium.

There is a way out, but vice-president Francisco Santos Calderón shouldn’t hold his breath. The Government could seek to enter into an extradition agreement but - lucky amigos - that would need the approval of the Dáil, which is in the middle of its usual three-month summer holiday.

Even if it weren’t, it is unlikely such an approval would be forthcoming in the near future, if at all, because decision-making is something the Dáil is not good at - apart from voting on pay increases for itself.

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