THE Government “would have continued to provide extensive security” to Steve Collins and his family had they chosen to remain in Limerick, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.
He was speaking in response to Fianna Fail justice spokesman Dara Calleary, who said in the Dail that the Collins family’s decision to relocate overseas had damaged confidence in the witness protection programme.
And Deputy Calleary asked the minister whether Garda budget cuts had affected the ability of the state to protect those who - like the Collins family - gave evidence against dangerous criminals.
“The witness protection programme seems to have failed in this instance. While results were achieved, if the family is forced to leave the country is there a danger a signal will go out and other people who would want to co-operate with the Garda will not do so,” stated Deputy Calleary.
But Minister Shatter responded that Deputy Calleary’s comments betrayed a “substantial misunderstanding” of what the witness protection programme does.
“Witness protection programmes worldwide are devised to facilitate individuals who are at risk from organised crime to start their lives anew, in a different location in the same country or in another country, for their own protection,” Minister Shatter said.
“Witness protection programmes are not simply about providing Garda protection for families or individuals placed at risk in their own communities. It is utterly and completely wrong for the deputy to suggest in any shape or form that the witness protection programme has failed or that it has in any way been impacted by any cutbacks of any description.”
“For some considerable time, there had been contact with Mr Collins as to how the State could best assist him and his family. This culminated in Mr Collins deciding that the best hope for himself and his family to lead a better life is to move abroad.”
Discussions with the family had been ongoing since the time Dermot Ahern was Minister for Justice, Minister Shatter reminded the Fianna Fail deputy.
“I substantially advanced those discussions and brought arrangements that were taking far too long to fruition and finality, thus facilitating the Collins family in their wish and choice to relocate elsewhere so they can lead a normal life. I wish them well,” said Minister Shatter, branding Deputy Calleary “a disgrace” to bring up the issue for what he termed “crass party-political point scoring”.
Both Deputy Calleary and Minister Shatter paid tribute to the bravery of the Collins family in making a stand against Limerick gangsters.