RESOURCES are an issue for An Garda Siochana but not when it comes to protecting life, Superintendent Frank O’Brien stressed this week.
He was commenting days after Steve Collins and his family left Limerick to begin a new life abroad under a Garda relocation programme.
Mr Collins’ son Roy was murdered in Roxboro three years ago following years of intimidation against the family by city gangsters. Mr Collins said that they had hoped to be able to stay in Limerick but the “trauma” of the past three years, despite having the round-the-clock protection of gardai, had become too much.
Another city man who gave evidence against members of the McCarthy-Dundon gang, Mark Heffernan, said this week he felt “let down by the state” after his 24-hour security detail was withdrawn before Christmas.
And in January, Phil Treacy – whose son Owen’s evidence in the Kieran Keane murder trial in 2003 helped secure life sentences for Dundon gang members – also complained that his security had been cut back.
Supt O’Brien, of Henry Street garda station, explained it was Garda policy not to discuss security arrangements for individuals but wished to reassure the public that money was not an issue when it came to protecting people whose lives were in danger.
“We do not comment on personal security matters other than to say that protection of life and property is one of our major goals and functions under the constitution. Obviously we take the threat to somebody’s life very seriously and we constantly review our arrangements for the protection of individuals and the population in general. We have different strategies in place for ensuring that but I want to categorically say that resource issues do not come into question where the protection of life is the main concern,” said Supt O’Brien.
Chief Supt David Sheahan last month told members of the city’s policing committee that while the Limerick Garda Division was not as badly affected as other areas by retirements, Limerick was losing about five per cent of its personnel between those leaving the force and promotions.
Supt O’Brien added this week that the closure of some smaller Limerick Garda stations meant that “resources are obviously a huge issue for us going forward but, again, that doesn’t extend to the question of protecting life”.
Garda budgets, he said, were not inflexible and extra resources could be requested where the circumstances require it.
Supt O’Brien said he could not comment on how many people were receiving Garda protection in Limerick at present.
But it is understood that some members of Steve Collins’ family who have chosen to remain in Limerick are still getting protection.
Others who have received protection in recent times include Willie Moran, who gave evidence against his former associate Brian Collopy last year, and April Collins, an ex-girlfriend of Ger Dundon who gave evidence aginst members of that gang.
*See the Limerick Leader weekend edition for a full version of this story