By Jack Holland
Fallout from the allegations about links between the IRA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia continue to trouble relations between Sinn Fein and the U.S. administration, say well-placed sources.
This week it was confirmed that the House International Relations Committee plans to hold congressional hearings next spring into the allegations, which sprang from the arrests of three Irish men in Colombia on Aug. 11. FARC is regarded as the leading guerrilla group in Colombia, where it has been trying to overthrow the US-backed regime for many years. It has been linked to the huge traffic in drugs, kidnapping and other terrorist activities.
Of the three arrested men, two, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley, are thought be high-ranking members of the IRA, and the third, Niall Connolly, is a Sinn Fein representative.
Massachusetts Rep. Bill Delahunt, who is a member of the House International Relations Committee, which is chaired by Henry Hyde, is planning to visit Colombia sometime in February or March to investigate the allegations. Delahunt recently returned from a trip to Cuba, where he focused on the activities of Connolly, who at the time of his arrest was reported as being Sinn Fein’s representative in Cuba. Sinn Fein denied this in August, but last month the party president, Gerry Adams, said there had been a misunderstanding and that the original report was true.
Delahunt said that he was “absolutely satisfied” that Connolly had in fact been the Sinn Fein representative for about five years. But he would not comment on whether he thought that Sinn Fein had been duplicitous about the matter. However, he did say that it was clear from what the Cuban authorities had told him that there was a longstanding relationship between the Cuban Communist Party and the IRA.
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In a letter to Chairman Hyde in September, Delahunt had said, “If this inquiry concludes that the IRA was assisting the FARC, it may raise serious concerns about the U.S. relationship with key players in the Irish peace process.”
Asked what he thought high-ranking IRA men were doing in Colombia, Delahunt said that “there is no explanation as yet.” He said that he is keeping an “open mind” on the question and “we’re developing information that doesn’t necessarily link them to FARC.”
The U.S. administration continues to view the allegations seriously, especially in the light of its declared war on international terrorism. When Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, was in New York and Washington on Oct. 23 and 24 briefing officials and the media on the IRA’s announcement that it had begun the decommissioning process, the administration reiterated a warning it had delivered in September. According to reliable sources, U.S. envoy Richard Haass told McGuinness that he and Adams “needed to understand that the U.S. would have no tolerance” of such connections.
However, just how extensive those connections are remains a matter of some controversy. According to information published by the Washington-based Institute for U.S. Cuba Relations, the FARC link was authorized by Brian Keenan, a leading member of the Provisional IRA Army Council who, it has been variously reported, was chief of staff or adjutant to the chief of staff. Keenan served a long jail sentence for his part in the IRA’s English bombing campaign in the 1970s. As late as 1993, intelligence reports showed he was still involved in IRA bombing operations in England.
The institute, which has been monitoring the story, also claimed that both Monaghan and McCauley were members of the IRA’s GHQ staff, a claim which is also made by security sources in Northern Ireland.
Such high-level authorization of the Colombian venture has been denied by the IRA itself, which in a statement on Sept. 20 said that the Army Council did not send any one to Colombia “to train or engage in any military operation.”
However, it was pointed out that the mission might have been authorized by GHQ, which is responsible for running the operational side of the IRA.
In a September bulletin, the institute alleged that “Connolly, fluent in Spanish, studied at Trinity College in Dublin. . . . He is believed to be the link between the IRA and the FARC through the Spanish Basque terrorist group ETA [Madrid] and contacts with Cuban intelligence [Havana].” The bulletin quoting Colombian intelligence sources goes on to claim that FARC was involved in a plot to smuggle the explosive Semtex through Venezuela to Colombia. FARC has been trying to upgrade its capacity to carry out bombing attacks on urban targets. The IRA possesses several tons of Semtex, which it received from 1985-87 from Libya. The bulletin notes that Connolly’s roundabout route to Colombia took him through Venezuela.
The debacle over the “Colombian caper,” as Haass called it, has reportedly led to friction within the IRA leadership. Keenan, who a few years ago announced that the only thing to be decommissioned in Ireland would be British imperialism, was faced down by McGuinness, who, the bulletin reports, was elected chief of staff of the IRA on Sept. 27. Three weeks later, decommissioning commenced.