By Jack Holland
The House International Relations Committee is to go ahead with hearings scheduled for April 24 which will look at alleged links between the IRA and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, a group said to be involved in drug trafficking as well as terrorism.
The decision by the chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, comes despite growing pressure to postpone the hearings. Last week, a member of the committee, Ben Gilman, asked that they be suspended.
The hearings will look at the allegations as part of a broader examination of the role of international terrorism and drug dealing in the increasingly bitter conflict in Colombia, whose U.S.-backed government is under sustained attack from FARC and other insurgents, including right-wing paramilitaries, in a civil war.
The possibility of IRA involvement came to light last August when three Irishmen with republican connections were arrested leaving a demilitarized zone then controlled by FARC. The three, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, said they were studying the Colombian peace process, but Colombian authorities alleged that they were training FARC in the use of mortar and explosives technology. In the last two years, there has been a notable increase in the use of car bombings and mortar attacks in and around urban centers, according to Colombian sources. Just this week 12 died in a double bomb attack near Bogota.
Leading Colombian and U.S. security officials will be appearing before the committee, including Asa Hutchinson, the director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency who has just returned from a trip to Colombia. Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, was also invited but it is believed he has decided not to attend.
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In a statement representing the committee chairman’s views, an official dismissed suggestions that a hearing would jeopardize the three Irishmen’s chances of a fair trial.
The trial is “to take place in Colombia, and we have received no complaints about our hearing from Colombian authorities,” John Mackey, the committee’s Investigative Council wrote. In fact, according to Mackey, “Committee and international interest in the IRA case is likely to prevent pressure, political or otherwise, on the judge — not increase it.”
He also stated that the proposition that some have made that there should be no hearings while judicial proceedings are ongoing would prohibit congress from “looking into al Qu’da and Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan — since some of the terrorists captured from that country are currently being detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. No one has suggested that this is a reasonable restriction on Congressional oversight.”
Meanwhile, in Dublin the Dail foreign affairs committee has invited Adams and Sinn Fein’s only TD, Caoimghin O Caolain, to attend a hearing on Sinn Fein’s alleged links to international terrorism on Thursday, April 11. The committee is made up of 14 TDs and six Senators. It is chaired by Dessie O’Malley, a former minister of justice who has been known as an outspoken critic of Sinn Fein and the republican movement.