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Sunday 2 May 2004

Three Boyos and one very smooth operator

CAITRIONA Ruane of the 'Bring Them Home' campaign is some operator. As director of the enthusiastically republican West Belfast Festival, she insisted it was inclusive, and made much of not being a member of Sinn Fein.

Subsequently she took on the case of the Colombia Three - two of whom were convicted IRA terrorists and one a Sinn Fein activist - and stated repeatedly that the 'Bring Them Home' campaign was nothing to do with the party. Her persona as a disinterested seeker for justice then handily made her famous.

Ruane joined up just in time to be imposed by the party leadership on South Down - displacing a man who had served them long and well. This cynical act by the Sinn Fein leadership precipitated much heart-searching and upset locally and - unusually for Sinn Fein - some resignations.

Ruane, MLA, is now a spokesman on human rights for a party run and financed by a gang of murderers and criminals. This is a formidably able, tough and effective woman who is poised to go fast to the top of Sinn Fein, which is notably short on talent. Through some classic republican whingeing, she has managed to make the public think that three men of whom we should be ashamed are victims, force the Irish government to spend a ludicrous amount of money and effort on looking after them, attract international support for a bad cause and make fools of the Colombian government and judiciary.

Let's remind ourselves of a few facts. In August 2001, the Colombian authorities picked up three Irishmen in Bogota who had just come from the region by controlled by FARC - an army of brutal Marxist terrorists who want to destroy the State. They were travelling on false passports and carrying forged press cards.

Jim Monaghan was a convicted IRA explosives expert. With his then partner Dr Rose Dugdale (jailed for 18 years in 1974 for participating in the theft of 19 great paintings from the Beit collection and a helicopter attack on an RUC station) he used to preach a Marxist message at weekend conferences all around Ireland. In the early Nineties, judged off-message, they got the cold shoulder from the republican family but later came back into line.

Martin McCauley was convicted in 1984 on IRA-related firearms charges. Niall Connolly had no form, but lived in Cuba, where he was Sinn Fein's representative - although the party leadership kept denying this connection until the Cubans confirmed it.

Cuba is what the republican leadership would love Ireland to be: you can execute your opponents, imprison your critics, keep your people in ignorance and poverty and by mouthing pious rhetoric, convince idiots the world over that you are heroes.

None of the men could give any convincing reason why they had false papers. The Colombian government believed these guys had been training FARC rebels and prosecuted them. Innocents that they were, the brilliant tactics of the 'Bring Them Home' campaign kept hopelessly wrongfooting them.

What was perceived as a poverty-stricken grassroots family campaign turned out to be led by a class act who on this shoe-string managed to visit Colombia 18 times, field brilliant lawyers and regularly fly in observers and activists from Ireland, Australia and the US.

There were allegations of death threats against the Three Boyos, imminent poisoning, abuse by prison guards, obstruction of lawyers, political stitching-up of the judge and so on and on and on and on.

Ruane got RTE on-side, persecuted the Irish government and managed to so influence public opinion that the unfortunate Colombian vice-president was greeted in Dublin like a war criminal.

Now - having been acquitted on the more serious charge - the Boyos are being marketed as a) innocents, and b) in imminent danger of being murdered by sinister right-wing forces.

Cowed and craven, the Irish government issued a statement that said absolutely nothing about the criminal behaviour of these people, but instead catalogued all the work done on their behalf by the ministers and diplomats and promised to lend the €17,000 necessary to spring them.

Well done, Ruane. Caoimhghin O Caolain, TD, the lacklustre Sinn Fein leader in the Dail, must be feeling a bit sick.

As Michael Commins of the Western People pointed out a few months ago, this Castlebar-reared ex-Connacht tennis champion would be the obvious person to parachute into Mayo for the next general election.

The republican leadership must be licking its corporate lips at the present difficulties of Beverley Flynn.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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