herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Their houses are run-down. They live in shell suits. They're filthy animals. So why not show it on TV as it is?

Businessman Steve Collins, whose innocent son was murdered by drug dealers, tells Aoife Finneran why he is shocked by the glamorous portrayal of crime in RTE drama Love/Hate

WHEN Steve Collins looks at RTE's new crime drama Love/Hate, he sees "a good-looking leading actor who looks like he came out of Vogue magazine".

He looks at the stylish characters earning their living as gangland criminals and sees lifestyles featuring "money, flash cars and a fancy penthouse".

Above all, he sees a glaring advertisement for this sordid underworld, one that could prove enticing to so many vulnerable youngsters.

Yet, Steve Collins knows to his cost that in real life, gangland activity is far less glamorous, and far more sinister.

The Dublin native has already paid an unimaginable price for crossing the path of Limerick's gangland criminals.

In 2004, his nephew Ryan Lee was shot after he refused entry to a bar to the 14-year-old sister of crime figure Wayne Dundon.

Lee later testified in court and while nobody was ever charged with the shooting, Dundon served five and a half years in prison for threatening to kill him. The Collins family were then put under the protection of armed gardai.

On April 9, 2009, Steve's son Roy was shot dead in the amusement arcade where he worked, while his father worked in the family pub next door.

Heartbroken

Limerick man James Dillon, a member of the notorious Dundon-McCarthy gang, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence in prison.

However, heartbroken Steve has vowed not to stop fighting for a crackdown on gangland crime until every gang member linked to his innocent son's death is behind bars.

In doing so, he has received threats, and his pub businesses have been slowly ruined by a campaign of intimidation.

His life, he admits, has been "destroyed" by the loss of his son and the events that brought him into contact with this notorious gang. And while his campaigning efforts were rewarded with the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill last year, Steve feels that RTE has displayed appalling timing with its new drama.

He's speaking to the Herald from his comfortable suburban home, while armed guards outside provide round-the-clock protection.

Barely concealing his anger, he explains: "I think in the last couple of years so much has been highlighted about the serious problem we have in this country with gangsters. Just as we're starting to get to grips with it, RTE brings out something like this and glamorise it."

He admits he was "horrified" by the first two episodes of Love/Hate, and suggested the station had shown "poor planning".

"Maybe if they started thinking about a programme that shows gangland in a real light and shows that these young gang members are used, abused, and then they end up in jail in their teens, for long stretches.

"Look at James Dillon now, he's looking at jail for 20 years. He's a young boy and his life is ruined."

The programme, he fears, "is an educational tool for vulnerable kids in areas out here in Southill and Moyross. They're looking at the drugs, the money, the flash cars and the €3m penthouse, which is not reality.

"It'll be a recruitment thing for the likes of the Dundons and other gangs. That sort of programme makes it easier for these guys to go in and put their arms around young people and say 'that's the way it is'. They'll use them, they'll become little foot soldiers for them, and it's sad."

The reality is a long way from the high-octane lifestyles depicted in the programme, he says.



"Criminals can't go around anymore showing any kind of wealth because the Criminal Assets Bureau are on to them straight away. This is a fact. The gardai are doing their job. If they see them with a flash car, they shouldn't have a flash car, so then it's gone. Why aren't they showing that in the programme?"

He is now challenging the broadcaster to "show it like it really is", saying: "Their houses are run-down. That's the way they live, in shell suits, they're filthy animals. So why not show it on TV as it is, with them all going around thinking they're in LA with their tracksuits and hoodies, living in squalor and driving their old cars."

Roused

The new series follows a crackdown on gangland crime that has been aided by the changes to the law brought about in last year's Bill.

However, much of the credit for the introduction of the new Bill must go to the Collins family. In the wake of Roy's shocking murder last year, they roused 7,000 people of Limerick to take to the streets to protest at gangland crime.

However, an RTE spokesperson has rejected the suggestion that its showing of the drama was irresponsible.

He also pointed out that a member of An Garda Siochana has publicly approved the depictions of gangland in the programme as accurate.

And he said the drama had displayed "a different kind of treatment" of gangland issues, which are routinely covered by the station across its news and current affairs programming. In addition, the station is due to air a new series on gangland issues in the coming weeks.

However, there is no easing the discomfort in the mind of Steve Collins as he considers the theme of the drama.

A Clondalkin native, he moved to Limerick in 1973, and worked hard to set up a business. Today, it is all but destroyed and he has found himself a reluctant champion for Limerick people who have been too terrified to speak out.

He has gained some measure of satisfaction in the fact that the man who killed his beloved son Roy is now behind bars.

He remarks: "We know that James Dillon committed the crime. He pulled the trigger. But there was so much pressure on him from the likes from gang members."

"We knew his family. They're good community people, so I felt sorry for them."

Steve believes that Dillon was sucked into the group when he began dabbling in drugs.

He explains: "They [the gangs] pump drugs into the young lads and then they say 'you owe us €2,000 and that has to be paid, but there's a way of getting you out of this'."

He believes his son's murderer will either do a long stretch in prison or end up dead at a young age. Gangsters, he insists, don't have a long shelf life.

However, there was no reason for Roy to meet a young death. The 35-year-old was looking forward to a day off work when he was callously gunned down at his amusement arcade business in April last year.



Bleeding

Steve recalls: "I was in the pub and... a lady came in to say the boy next door was bleeding.

"I went in and found him. He was on his hunkers, in a lot of pain and he couldn't breathe and I just comforted him and held him. I couldn't move him so I called an ambulance and waited. They came, worked on him, gave him adrenalin, and he bucked up. He gave me the thumbs up and I thought he was alright. I thought he'd be okay, but it wasn't to be."

The brutal murder threw up some harsh new decisions for the Collins family. With the threat of further violence from gangland figures, Steve was offered a place in the Witness Protection Programme. He turned down a move to Canada, with work as a carpenter.

He believes that the current system is vastly inadequate and is now campaigning for improved protection for people in a similar situation.

He points out: "The Government has this impression that there's a Witness Protection Programme. But it's a programme for criminals who want to get out of gangs. They can give them €150 and put them in some other country for six months and then they're on their own. That's what the Government classes as witness protection. But that's not good enough.

"We had a nice lifestyle here. We had good businesses that took me all my life to build up. Now they've been taken from me. What about everything we lost? We'll never get that back. Am I supposed to lose, lose, lose all the time for doing the right thing?"

Despite the tragedy that has befallen his family in Limerick, loyal Steve has no plans to leave. Instead, he feels he owes it to the thousands of people who marched by his side to continue campaigning for an end to gangland dominance.

afinneran@herald.ie

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