Over the last week and intensely at the weekend, the ‘Colombia-gate’ saga again reared its ugly head. Readers might remember the tale of 3 Irish men finding themselves in Colombia, bird-watching we were told, but arrested and tried for training anti-government marxist FARC rebels. They later popped up in Ireland, and the Colombian authorities are still seeking their return. One of the men, Niall Connolly, happened to be the brother of Frank, a high-profile journalist in Ireland. It is Frank that has now come to the fore in McDowell’s sights, an uncomfortable place to find yourself no doubt.
McDowell is making some very serious allegations indeed. He alleges that not only did Niall et al travel on false passports, so too did hack Frank Connolly. So thanks to limitless space I will quote the relevant piece from McDowell:
I am informed by An Garda Síochána that following the arrest in August 2001 of James Monaghan, Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly – who became known as the “Colombia Three” – the Colombian authorities had established that on April 10th, 2001, three people in possession of false Irish passports had earlier entered the Farc-controlled region in Colombia. The three persons who entered in April were subsequently identified as Frank Connolly, Niall Connolly and Pádraig Wilson.
Niall Connolly, who was identified as being part of both parties, is the brother of Frank Connolly and was described by the government of Cuba in August 2001 as the official Sinn Féin representative to the Cuban government and as resident in Havana.
The Garda authorities have informed me that they are fully satisfied as to the accuracy of the identification of all the members of both parties.
I do not propose to rehearse here the gravity of the charges against the “Colombia Three” but it clearly strains credulity to suggest that the two visits were unconnected.
This is all the more so when the persons on both trips had access to false passports which could only have been obtained in such quantities as part of a well- organised sinister enterprise. Niall Connolly, the brother of Frank Connolly, travelled on both occasions on a false passport.
I do not accept that the purpose of the visit on either occasion was to study the peace process in Colombia.
Pádraig Wilson was a known senior IRA member and has been convicted in Northern Ireland of explosives offences and conspiracy to murder, and of IRA membership.
James Monaghan was a known senior IRA member and has been convicted of numerous explosives and firearms offences, in this jurisdiction and in the UK, and of IRA membership.
Martin McAuley was a known IRA member and has been convicted of possession of a firearm.
On the basis of intelligence reports furnished to me, the visits appear to have been connected with an arrangement whereby the Provisional IRA furnished know- how in the use of explosives.
The consideration received by the Provisional IRA under the arrangement is believed to be the payment of a large amount of money by Farc, which finances its activities by its control of the cocaine trade in the area of Colombia which it controls.
I am aware that – despite the commitment of the Centre for Public Inquiry to “independently promote the highest standards of integrity, ethics and accountability” – Mr Connolly has proved very reticent in answering any detailed questions about the subject of his presence in Colombia.
A veritable plethora of allegations indeed. And how, you might ask, has Frank Connolly responded? On the News at One last Wednesday Frank was interviewed, where he did state certain things categorically, Sean O’Rourke interviewing:
SOR: Have you visited Colombia?
SOR: And then so you’re saying the question of you being in Colombia in possession of a false passport, is irrelevant?
FC: Is false.
SOR: When you were being questioned by Gardai in relation to all of this did they show you any documentation or picture purporting to be your picture?
FC: Of course they showed me documentation and what I have said from that time onwards is that, iand this is 3 and a half years ago, it had nothing to do with me.
SOR: Did they show you a picture that was a picture of you?
FC: Well I’m not going to discuss firstly what happened in my discussions with the Gardai, but I think you could fairly make that assumption yes. And what I’m saying is that I have disputed and denied that I had anything to do with this alleged false passport.
SOR: Was it your picture?
FC: That I saw? That was shown to me? Absolutely not.
When asked specifically what he had been doing at the time he was alleged to be in Colombia, Connolly said:
When the DPP, if he ever does, decides to forward a case against me, I will deal with all the issues. I’m not going to be interrogated as if I was in a Garda station on an RTÉ programme.
In his defence, Connolly makes his own allegations. That McDowell leaked confidential Garda files to a journalist, that McDowell told Atlantic Philanthropies of the contents of the Garda files. That information was always leaked around the time of reports of the CPI being released. That with the launch of the CPI, the attacks on him began in earnest. That ultimately the Minister is interfering in due process.
Now to get this down to a 1000 word opinion piece.