13 September 2001 Edition
Concerns expressed over Colombian prisoners
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McAuley, the three Irishmen currently detained in Colombia, are being held in conditions that are in ``clear breach of any internationally accepted standards of human rights'', according to their families.
In a statement issued on Thursday, 6 September, the family of Niall Connolly said they were ``deeply concerned about the conditions in which Niall and his fellow detainees in Colombia, James Monaghan and Martin McAuley are being held''.
The men were moved from La Modelo jail in Bogota to a Military Barracks in the city at the weekend, following fears that they could be attacked by right-wing elements in the prison, and a visit from the Irish embassy official in Mexico, Síle Maguire. The Dublin government had earlier requested that the men be removed to a safe place of detention.
Maguire confirmed that the three men were being held in a four-metre square cell, 24 hours a day. The families now intend on launching a public campaign for their release.
``They have no fresh air and no exercise facilities and remain under constant threat from right-wing paramilitaries housed in nearby blocks. Their food is purchased from outside because of the risk of poisoning.''
The Connolly family also voiced their concern that the three have been unable to prepare a defence against charges of having trained FARC personnel. ``Because of their precarious position, the men have not had access to adequate legal representation. Some lawyers are unable, because of safety concerns, to enter the jail and consult with the three men,'' the statement said.
Adverse, ``inaccurate and misleading'' publicity, the Connollys also maintained, has ensured that they will not receive a fair trial.
The families have urged the Dublin government, the EU presidency and political powers in Ireland, Britain and the US to demand the immediate release and safe return of the three men.
James Monaghan's former employers and co-workers in Coiste na nIarchimí, a republican ex-prisoners' group set up under the Good Friday Agreement, have also released a statement of support.
``Before the demonisation is complete, we wish to put on record our respect for Jim as an esteemed member of our network, the value of his work while he was working within our network and our hope that he will soon return to take up the valuable documentation project outlined,'' they said.
Ó Caoláin responds to Fianna Fáil Colombia smear
Responding to recent statements by Rory O'Hanlon, Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the chairperson of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party was attempting to smear Sinn Fein.
Ó Caoláin said:
``I have refrained from engaging in megaphone exchanges on the issue of the arrests of three Irishmen in Colombia. However I have been left with no option but to respond, given Deputy O'Hanlon's repeated utterances directed at Sinn Féin in both national and local press last week.
``The three Irishmen have yet to be charged or sent for trial. They have been the subject of numerous and often contradictory media reports, many of which proved to be spurious. An indication of the source of much of the `spin' on these stories was the fact that the initial report of the arrests was `leaked' to Peter Robinson of the DUP by elements of British intelligence.
``Many in the media, and, disgracefully, in political life, have set aside the principle of ``innocent until proven guilty''. The presumption of innocence has become the presumption of guilt in much of the commentary, including that of Deputy O'Hanlon. This would be bad enough in this jurisdiction where, for all its flaws, there is a legal system which is accountable and where an accused has a reasonable prospect of a fair trial. But such is not the case in Colombia, which is ruled, to all intents and purposes, by martial law. As the family of one of the men, Niall Connolly, has pointed out, they are in grave danger in prison and face the prospect of conviction on tainted and possibly fabricated `evidence'.
``In such a situation, it is totally unacceptable for Deputy O'Hanlon and his colleagues to attempt to use these arrests to mount a party political assault on Sinn Féin. Your readers should be aware that Deputy O'Hanlon's statement was duplicated by other representatives of his party in local media throughout the State. Clearly this was initiated and co-ordinated at a high level in Fianna Fáil in order to smear Sinn Féin. Quite disgracefully the spectre of drugs was raised. The men in Colombia have not been charged with any drugs offences. Initial reports about traces on their clothes have been discredited. Yet a scandalous attempt is being made to link Sinn Féin to drugs through these men. I believe your readers will come to their own conclusions about the real motivation for such outrageous allegations.
``This needs to be put in a wider context. There is real concern now that the eagerness of the Fianna Fáil party to damage Sinn Féin in a pre-election scenario is blinding the government to its wider responsibility. Make no mistake, we in Sinn Féin are well used to, and do not complain of, the cut and thrust of party politics. But in relation to the Six Counties and the peace process, national priorities and not narrow party political interests must predominate.
``The Irish government claims to act, and must act, in the interests of all Irish citizens, and has acknowledged its special responsibility with regard to nationalists in the Six Counties. This includes all nationalists, not just those who vote SDLP. Deputy O'Hanlon and other senior government party figures canvassed for the SDLP in the Westminster election. I am convinced also that the SDLP was actively encouraged by the Irish government in its decision to accept the British government's flawed policing plan. Part of the motivation for this was the belief that such a position would isolate Sinn Féin. Instead it has broken the nationalist consensus on policing and eased the pressure on the British government to fully implement the Patten Report. This is to the shame of all who clambered on board this orchestrated capitulation to British and unionist pressure.
``For our part we in Sinn Féin are maintaining our focus on the real issues at this very difficult stage in the peace process. Others should do so also.''