15/11/2002

Nesbitt slammed over 'Colombia Three' comments

A war of words has flared between the UUP and the Bring Them Home Campaign after five members of the Oireachtas announced their intention to attend the trial of the 'Colombia Three' in Bogota.

The campaign is to seek legal advice after senior Ulster Unionist Dermot Nesbitt labelled the Irish delegation as a "Sinn Fein rescue mission".

Senator Paul Bradford (Fine Gael), TD John Curran (Fianna Fáil), TD Sean Crowe (Sinn Fein), TD Finian McGrath (Independent), and Senator Mary White (Fianna Fail) are set to join the second stage of the trial on November 28.

The UUP assembly member, and former Stormont minister, said: "The Irish delegation is sponsored and paid for by the Bring Them Home Campaign that many regard as a Sinn Fein front organisation.

"This is not a political trial and I am disturbed that some members of the Dail are seeking to make it so – particularly at a time when the actions of the republican movement have caused the collapse of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland and have frustrated the will of the people of this island, north and south. I am sure many of their constituents must be wondering if these politicians do not have more pressing matters to attend to on the home front.

"For Irish politicians to engage in a Sinn Fein rescue mission raises questions in the Unionist community about the impartiality of certain politicians in the Republic of Ireland. They seem to have thrown the spirit of the Belfast Agreement out of the window."

He added: "I believe the leaders of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael should follow the example set by the Irish Labour Party and start a 'Keep Them Home' campaign."

The campaign's spokeswoman, Catriona Ruane, described Mr Nesbitt's remarks as "deeply prejudicial to the three Irish citizens in Colombia".

Ms Ruane said: "This is an outrageous attempt to prejudice the men's trial and we are taking legal advice as to whether or not the statement is actionable."

Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly have been held by Colombian authorities since August 11 2001 for allegedly helping to train anti-government Farc terrorists.

(GMcG)

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