The Taoiseach has said he does not expect that the issue of the three Irishmen sentenced in Colombia for terrorist offences, will have any impact on the Northern peace process, unless someone tries to make it an issue.

Speaking at the EU summit in Brussels, Mr Ahern said the Irish Government's role had been a consular one, and he had limited his interventions to pressing the Colombian government for an early hearing of the men's appeal. 

He said this was done on the basis of accepting the separation of the judiciary from the executive in Colombia. 

While expressing surprise at the outcome, he said he accepted the decision of the judges, and said the three men should return to Columbia to mount a legal challenge.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that it has had no contact with the three men since they were released on bail in April. 

The department said the families of the men had also heard nothing from the three.

Meanwhile the Tánaiste, Mary Harney, has said she has no reason to believe that a miscarriage of justice was involved in the case of the three men.

James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley were sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment yesterday after a court in the capital, Bogota, reversed a not guilty verdict on the charge.

It was earlier reported by Colombian authorities that the three fled the country before they could be re-arrested.

Colombia's Attorney-General, Luis Camilo Osorio, said they were trying to find out what country had received them.

Mr Osorio said he believed it was possible to capture the men and that the international community was under an obligation to help in doing so.