A SPOTLIGHT ON EVIDENCE NOT THERE
BBC’s Spotlight team found itself in Colombia in recent weeks on the trail of evidence regarding the ongoing detention of Jim Moneghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley. Tuesday night’s broadcast of the findings demonstrates that the really interesting evidence in this case is not that supposedly linking the three republicans to illegal activity but in fact relates to the nature of the operation staged for the purposes of trapping the men. Those intent on effecting the arrests seemed unconcerned with the guilt or innocence of the trio. Evidence was hardly a consideration given that little effort was expended in collating any. The overriding concern seems to have been one of making a big media splash for the purposes of political leverage. Regardless of the facts of the case, who was going to listen to three Irish republicans, two of whom had previous convictions stemming directly from their involvement in armed republican activity?
Spotlight, aided by the time that had elapsed since the arrests coupled with its acquisition of agenda setting documentation emanating from British diplomats and the RUC, managed to conduct a considerably more focused investigation than that of the UTV Insight team a number of weeks previously. The major difference between the two documentaries lay in the highlighting of culpability. Insight suggested, plausibly enough in the views of most people, that the three republicans were not out on holiday. Conversely, Spotlight, drew the attention of the audience to the total lack of evidence against the three accused and succeeded in refracting attention onto probable spook involvement. In one piece of footage a female attorney for the Colombian state came across as a blathering idiot, rendered speechless when asked the simplest of questions in relation to evidence. While Sinn Fein’s incoherent babbling in the wake of the arrests merely persuaded people that the men had some case to answer the Colombian attorney pitched the pendulum firmly in the other direction. The men may not be innocent but the case for their guilt appears unlikely ever to be made.
It now seems clear that from the outset the Colombian operation to detain the three republicans was not the outcome of legal or judicial process. Attributing political culpability to the Provisional Republican Movement at a significant moment in the North’s political process was the determining factor. Events in Belfast rather than Bogotá sealed the fate of the accused.
This is not to excuse Sinn Fein or its abysmal management of the fall-out from the episode. It is not even to suggest that the men were not out in Colombia on IRA activity. Sinn Fein’s willingness for a number of years to tread the quagmire of decommissioning and then try to play it long through delaying the logical inevitability most likely spurred powerful agencies in London, Dublin and Washington to move against it and close off all remaining options to the party. The three men, guilty or innocent, were a useful patsy in the matter.
What emerges from the Spotlight investigation is that three republicans are being held in dangerous and less than humane conditions in Colombia. The case against them is political rather than legal. It is not nearly as strong as the case for their immediate release.