28 October 2005

PDs accused of doing u-turn on Colombia Three

Irish Examiner

28 October 2005

By Harry McGee
THE Progressive Democrats were yesterday accused of backing down from their proposal that the so-called Colombia Three be made serve their prison sentences in Ireland.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe yesterday claimed Tánaiste Mary Harney suggested last August that the Transfer of Sentences Bill might provide a solution to allow the three republicans serve sentences in Ireland for convictions handed down in Colombia.

"But, said Mr O’Keeffe, the PDs had gone “very cold on the idea of using the new legislation.”

The claim of a PD U-turn emerged during an exchange between Mr O’Keeffe and Justice Minister Michael McDowell as the Report Stage of the Transfer of Sentence Bill was being debated in the Dáil.

Mr McDowell said the Bill was prepared long before the Colombia Three controversy arose. He said it was never the case that the Bill was “tailor made” to deal with that situation.

The Justice Minister said the State which imposed the sentence needs to sign up to the Convention and Protocol that allows sentences to be transferred from one jurisdiction to another. Colombia has not done that to date, he said.

He also pointed out that Colombia has also applied for extradition of the three men, James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley. He went on to say that if extradition was not possible, then it was unlikely that sentences could be transferred if there was no equivalence between the offences in Ireland and Colombia.

However, the minister’s spokesperson later said that it would remain an option if extradition was not possible because of other reasons other that the need for equivalent offences.

However, Mr O’Keeffe contended the minister’s identification of obstacles to this solution flew in the face of a press release issued by the Tánaiste in August when she specifically identified this legislation as a means of making the men serving their 17-year sentences.

Mr O’Keeffe argued: “Tough talk at the end of the summer has wilted away to dry procedural debate. All the while the three convicted men remain at large as the solution is abandoned.”

Meanwhile, Mr McDowell also formally withdrew his threat yesterday to outsource prison escorts and other services to private contractors.

In a Senate debate on the Prisons Bill, he said the acceptance by prison officers of new work practices and pay arrangements no longer made those contingency plans necessary.

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