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Centre for Public Inquiry.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 6 December 2005

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Questions (319)

Finian McGrath

Question:

368 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on and recent attempts to undermine a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37603/05]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I take it that the Deputy has tabled the question to me in the light of concerns which I have expressed about the position of Mr. Frank Connolly, the executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry — Fiosrú An Phobail.

According to its website, the Centre for Public Inquiry was established in February 2005. The Centre for Public Inquiry is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, which has provided funding of €4 million over five years to assist its work. The centre's claimed mission is "to independently promote the highest standards of integrity, ethics and accountability across Irish public and business life and to investigate and publicise breaches of those standards where they arise." The board of the centre is chaired by Mr. Justice Fergus Flood and includes Professor Enda McDonagh, Damien Kiberd and Greg O'Neill.

The board of the centre has appointed Frank Connolly to be its executive director. I have said publicly that Mr. Connolly has many major questions to deal with in respect of his travel to Colombia under an assumed identity with a known subversive in advance of the subsequent visit of the Colombia Three.

I am informed by the 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 established that on 10 April 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 it 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.

Concerning the party that travelled to the FARC zone in April 2001, investigations have revealed that false passports were obtained for each of the members of the party as follows: an Irish passport bearing the photograph of Pádraig Wilson had been issued in the name of James Edward Walker on 19 May 2000; an Irish passport bearing the photograph of Niall Connolly had been issued in the name of Ralph McKay on 18 December 2000; and an Irish passport bearing the photograph of Frank Connolly had been issued in the name of John Francis Johnston on 1 November 2000.

Regarding the Colombia Three party arrested in August of the same year, the three persons in question, James Monaghan, Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly, formally admitted in the course of legal proceedings in Colombia that they were in possession of three false passports as follows: James Monaghan was travelling on a British passport bearing his photograph and issued in the name of Edward Joseph Campbell; Martin McAuley was travelling on a British passport bearing his photograph and issued in the name of John Joseph Kelly; and Niall Connolly was travelling on an Irish passport bearing his photograph and issued in the name of David Bracken, a deceased person.

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.

I believe many people will find it surprising, given the public attention that this matter has received, that no adequate and sustained attempt appears to have been made by the board of the Centre for Public Inquiry to address the genuine issues of public concerns that arise.

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