by Austin Bay
Meet Niall Connolly, an Irishman living in Cuba where he serves as a de facto Irish Republican Army "ambassador" to Havana. Greet James Monaghan, the Provisional Irish Republican Army's (PIRA, or "Provys") "chief of engineering" and Martin McCauley, a Provy explosives expert.
After arriving in Colombia using false passports, the three spent five weeks in a rural "safe zone" controlled by the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Last week, the Colombian Army arrested Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley as they tried to leave the country.
The Colombian Army (an organization with a less-than-stellar record for credibility) contends the three Provys were training FARC guerrillas to use of explosives and special "mortar bombs" the IRA employs in urban terror attacks. The IRA men claim they were merely sharing their experience in "resettling political prisoners" as part of a peace process. They dispute reports that chemical residues associated with explosives were found on their clothing.
But don't be fooled by allegations and agitprop. Whatever "business" brought them to Colombia, the "IRA Three" are skilled killers. They are flesh and blood members of "Northern Ireland's war camp," hardened men with triggers and detonators for whom terror is both political passion and vicious profession.
My friend Father Hugh introduced me to the concept of "the war camp."
For the record, it's impossible to be more Irish than Hugh. He's an Irish Jesuit priest who teaches at a Jesuit school, and his father was a Dublin cop.
"Camps" one and two in Ulster are the Catholics and the Protestants. They both have legitimate political grievances that, in Hugh's view, can be accommodated when the violence stops.
The third side, however, is the dark force -- "the war camp," comprising the Catholic Irish Republican Army and the Protestant Unionist militiamen. Of course, Unionist militias and the IRA (particularly the Provys and the "Real IRA" splinter faction) are the relentless assassins who keep the rest of Northern Ireland in a crossfire. The "war camp's" continued armed belligerence becomes a crime -- a war crime committed against Catholics and Protestants alike.
The IRA Three's mere presence in Colombia is a short but encyclopedic commentary on the current state of Northern Ireland's "peace process." That process is stalled. Though several complex issues remain unresolved, the most critical is IRA disarmament.
And that's a deal-shattering issue, one that questions any notion of peace in Ulster -- for men like Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley never disarm. They are rejectionists who live with absolute and intolerant political visions. If Americans need an example of the mindset, consider Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.
Northern Ireland's Catholic-versus-Protestant violence and Spain's "dirty war" with separationist Basques remain Western Europe's most intractable ethnic conflicts. They may have curious (and reprehensible) interconnections.
Last week, Spanish and British sources connected both the FARC and the IRA with the Basque terrorist ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna). In fact, the IRA Three may have been substitutes for ETA "advisers."
There's also an American link in the IRA's support network. For years, misguided Irish-American sympathizers have provided the IRA with money for arms through the organization NORAID. In 1982 in New York, I met a cocky, self-described "activist" who publicly admitted he was raising funds to buy guns for the IRA.
Unionists argue that domestic political pressures, exerted by Irish-Americans like the "fund-raiser," incline Washington to favor the "Republicans."
U.S. support for the peace process, however, has been remarkably even-handed. Former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell served as a fair arbiter when he helped responsible Protestant and Catholic leaders craft the 1998 Good Friday accord, making Northern Ireland one of the Clinton administrations' few substantial diplomatic successes.
However, as long as the international terror network supporting rejectionists like the IRA Three continues to function, violence threatens Ulster's fragile peace.
Evidence emerging in the wake of the IRA arrests indicates that network runs through Havana, northern Spain and rural Colombia. Like it or not, IRA political cheerleaders in U.S. Irish-American enclaves are implicitly part of that support system.
Encouraging peace in Northern Ireland means confronting that network, in particular, halting the flow of American cash to war criminals. The Bush administration has a real challenge, and a real opportunity, to wage war on terror in the cause of peace.