Sunday 24 June 2018

Michaella may be free - but a series of tough questions will continue to follow her around

Michaella McCollum's actions have transformed her life Photo: REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
Michaella McCollum's actions have transformed her life Photo: REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
Adam Cullen

Adam Cullen

It has been quite the week for Michaella McCollum. At 5pm on Thursday, March 31, she left the dusty, hot and arid desert prison where she has spent the past two years and six months of her life.

A few short hours later, she was celebrating her new-found freedom in Lima's trendiest neighbourhood.

As she left her cell behind in Ancon Dos prison, a new world awaited the 23-year-old Tyrone woman.

The high-rise glass towers, designer shops, fancy eateries and rolling sea breeze in her new Miraflores home must have almost seemed alien to her at first.

Little did she know that one of her first acts as a free woman would create a new type of prison for her.

Ireland waited to catch a glimpse of what the stresses and strains of years in a South American prison had done to a wee lassie from Dungannon.

But no-one predicted the results, and few seemed happy with them.

On RTÉ One last Sunday night, the smuggler who had tried to sneak almost €2m worth of drugs out of Peru, looked more like she had just stepped out of a salon than a jail cell.

Some 550,000 of us tuned in - and we saw a flawless-looking young woman flaunt her new blonde hairstyle and glistening white teeth.

We waited for the truth to finally arrive, for her full story to surface. But many were left disappointed and felt that the interview gave her an easy ride.

Some even launched a volcano of vitriol at what they felt were over-rehearsed and somewhat empty apologies.

But either way, it is a performance that will forever change her life.

It may well define her as much as her decision to help smuggle 11kg of cocaine across the Atlantic those short few years ago. She had the opportunity to put the record straight last Monday when approached by our reporters in Lima.

Instead, she chose to flee the hard questions and, instead of talking, made her escape in a taxi.

On Thursday night, she reared her head above the parapet once more, this time looking every bit as glamorous as she did on her TV debut.

Clutching a designer handbag and smartphone, the aspiring model sipped on Starbucks coffee near her home.


Accompanied by her mother Norah, they were later joined by a Peruvian friend and her baby.

Wearing sparkling earrings, ripped black jeans and a black top, the blonde again declined to speak with reporters.

It is probable that Irish people will forgive her for attempting to smuggle cocaine back to Europe in August 2013. It is even likely that they will forgive her tales and excuses of kidnappings and guns.

But that forgiveness may be hard to come by until certain other truths are addressed.

Michaella claimed she fled Ireland for Ibiza to escape sectarian violence.

She told the nation that she had to flee to the party island in order to hide from the hate. A hate that has seen thousands killed and families ripped apart.

Locals in her hometown seriously questioned her tale of woe and said the Troubles were behind them.

Her own mother has derailed her story further - she previously admitted that she knew her daughter had been planning to travel months in advance for the holidays.

We heard of how Michaella was to help with Lima's growing HIV and Aids epidemic - only to learn later that she had already traded it in for a cosy office job helping with a parish magazine.

Now, as she tries to regain control of her derailed life surrounded by a city full of both affluence and poverty, she must step forward and answer the tough questions.

Irish Independent

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