I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for granting our request to have the Adjournment debate on the case of the three Irish citizens, Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and Jim Monaghan, in Colombia and the urgent need to get them home safely. This request is to ensure that the three men, the Bring Them Home campaign team, and their lawyers are all looked after and above all to ensure that they return safely to their families. I urge the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the Department to intervene to give this the final push to get them out of Colombia and safely home. I appreciate that the Department of Foreign Affairs was very supportive of the families and international observers. I witnessed that at first hand and thank them for it but we need a final push to resolve this issue.
I challenge the inflammatory and prejudicial interventions of elements of the media, US and British politicians and sadly of some Members of this House. Their attacks on the men, their families and the international observers were disgraceful. It was a sad day for human rights activists. History will record their shame and lack of integrity on this issue. I wish to bury some of the myths surrounding the case of the "Colombia Three". They were arrested illegally in El Dorado Airport, Bogota, on 11 August 2001. Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley were held without charge for six months in constant fear for their lives. They were charged in January 2002 with the use of false documentation and training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC.
Their trial began in 2002 and concluded in August 2003. A delegation of international observers, which included lawyers, politicians and human rights activists from Ireland, the US and Australia attended each hearing of the trial in Bogota and a hearing of the commission in the city of Medellin in the north of Colombia. I had the honour and privilege of acting as an observer on that team. We discovered some major inconsistencies in the prosecution's case. There were flaws in the forensic evidence, interference in the case by senior political and military figures in Colombia and fabricated evidence by key prosecution witnesses.
During a visit to the three men, who have been held in six different prisons in varying degrees of danger, observers were informed by senior prison officials that the Colombian authorities could not guarantee their safety in the country. We also heard from the men their reasons for visiting Colombia, the manner of their illegal arrest and the detention and horrific conditions they were forced to endure since their arrest in 2001.
The men explained their reasons for refusing to attend the trial hearings until the concluding stages in July 2003. In their address to the court in July 2003, they stated that their presence in Colombia was in support of the now stalled peace process in that country. They spent a number of weeks in the demilitarised zone in the south-east of Colombia which has also been visited by many international delegations, including senior politicians, diplomats and business people, as well as human rights and political activists from Europe and the US. They stated that their possession of documentation with assumed identities reflected nothing more than a desire to travel unhindered. This is a minor offence punishable by deportation under Colombian law.
Political, military and intelligence forces seeking to undermine the peace process in this country have used this case. Observers found that no evidence was presented at the trial which proved the prosecution case that the men were engaged in illegal training of FARC guerrillas.
The evidence of prosecution witnesses who claimed to have seen the men at various times in Colombia between 1991 and 2001 was refuted under cross-examination. Alibis, including video evidence, was presented which showed the men could not have been in Colombia at the times alleged.
Observers found the men were kept in dangerous conditions and that there is no safe place of detention for them in Colombia. We also noted the threats to their defence lawyers and visiting families. Members of the observer delegation were subjected to harassment and direct intimidation by the Colombian authorities.
These are the facts of the case. I answered all the questions raised by many people. I urge the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department to use all in their power to get these men safely home and to ensure that the Bring Them Home campaign team can come back safely to Ireland as quickly as possible.