McDowell Under Fire For ‘Steering’ Colombia Probe

Posted By: September 02, 2005

McDowell Under Fire For ‘Steering’ Colombia Probe

By Cormac O’Keeffe
Irish Examiner September 2, 2005

A LEADING legal expert yesterday accused Justice
Minister Michael McDowell of interfering in the
garda investigation into the Colombia Three.

Professor Dermot Walsh of Limerick University
said the minister had “crossed the line” by
trying to steer an ongoing criminal probe. “I
think the minister has crossed the line, insofar
as he’s maintaining a hands-on control of the
investigation in the Colombia case and demanding
regular accounts on that investigation from the
Garda Commissioner. It seems to me that he’s
interfering in a specific criminal investigation
of individuals and that crosses the mark of
political interference in the administration of
justice,” he said.

Prof Walsh, who runs the Centre for Criminal
Justice at the University of Limerick, said Mr
McDowell seemed to be “on a crusade” against the
Colombia Three and was determined to punish them
through the criminal justice system.

“He has used his position as Minister for Justice
by trying to steer the criminal justice process
in a direction that will achieve that result.”
He said this was a matter for the Garda
Commissioner and the courts. The minister seemed
to be “riding roughshod” over the Constitution’s
separation of powers between the Government and
the administration of justice. Prof Walsh said
the minister’s statements could scupper the
prospect of any case ever being taken against
James Monaghan, Niall Connolly or Martin McCauley.

“Can these guys get a fair trial given the extent
of comment about their case, from of all people
the Minister for Justice?”

Prof Walsh’s remarks follow reports Mr McDowell
had told a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday it was
“probable” gardaí would be travelling to Colombia
to pursue their investigations. An official garda
spokesman subsequently said the trip was only “an
option”. However, yesterday he said it was a
“strong possibility”. Unofficial garda sources
said the trip was more to do with “political
expediency” than advancing the criminal

Prof Walsh said the impression being conveyed was
gardaí were acting under pressure from the

Mr McDowell’s spokesman yesterday rejected claims
of interference. “The minister is not steering
anything, he’s just been kept briefed.” He said
Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy told the minister
on Monday it was “probable” gardaí would visit
Colombia and he confirmed that yesterday.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said the
“huffing and puffing” by the PDs on the Colombia
Three had collapsed and the sum total of the
Cabinet’s deliberations was that “a couple of
gardaí may or may not be sent on a fool’s errand
to Colombia”.

DUP leader Ian Paisley described the Government’s
response as “laughable” and threatened to break
off contact over the issue.

Father Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus
P.O. Box 15128
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20003-0849