07 December 2005

Sinn Féin accuses McDowell of abusing privilege


07/12/2005 - 08:21:38

The Irish Justice Minister has abused parliamentary privilege by repeating unfounded allegations in the Dáil, Sinn Féin claimed today.

Michael McDowell last night accused the director of the Centre for Public Inquiry, journalist Frank Connolly, of being linked to a plot by the IRA to provide Colombian terrorists with bombing-making information in return for cash.

In a written reply to a Dáil question by independent TD Finian McGrath, Mr McDowell claimed that Mr Connolly travelled to the Farc-controlled region of Colombia on a false passport in April 2001 along with convicted IRA member, Padraig Wilson.

The visit was a well-organised sinister enterprise, the minister claimed.

Mr Connolly last night rejected the allegations and accused the minister of being part of a “witch hunt” aimed at destroying the Centre for Public Inquiry, which promotes ethics and accountability in public life.

Mr McDowell claimed under Dáil privilege that Mr Connolly also travelled with his brother, Niall, one of the Colombia Three, who re-appeared in Ireland in August after jumping bail in Bogota.

Sinn Féin today accused Mr McDowell of abusing his powers within the Dáil.

A party spokesman said of the minister’s claims: “It is an outrageous abuse of parliamentary privilege by the minister as these allegations are completely unfounded.”

In his reply to Mr McGrath, Mr McDowell said he had been informed by gardaí that prior to the arrest of the so-called Colombia Three in August 2001, authorities had established that three Irish people also entered Farc-controlled territory on false passports, and one of those was Frank Connolly.

He added under Dáil privilege: “On the basis of intelligence reports furnished to me, the [April and August] visits appear to have been connected with an arrangement whereby the Provisional IRA furnished knowhow 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.”

Mr Connolly is expected to make a statement today to completely refute the allegations.

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