Steve Collins with his wife Carmel (right) and daughter Leanne: 'Me and my family are heavily protected now. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to get at us again'

PUBLICAN Steve Collins – whose innocent son Roy was shot dead in Limerick on the orders of the McCarthy Dundon crime gang – has revealed that the cost of armed garda protection for his family is €1.5m a year.

Roy Collins was shot dead outside Brannigan's pub in April 2009. His murder was ordered by the leader of the McCarthy Dundon gang because the Collins family gave evidence in court against Wayne Dundon, resulting in him being sentenced to 10 years for threatening to kill Roy's cousin, Ryan Lee.

The publican's family has been under armed garda protection since Steve's adopted son, Ryan Lee, testified against Wayne Dundon in 2005.

Dundon threatened to kill Lee after he refused to allow his younger sister Annabell Dundon, who was 14 at the time, into the family-run pub. Less than half an hour later, a gunman wearing a motorcycle helmet walked into the pub and shot the then 19-year-old barman twice.

Despite the garda protection, the McCarthy Dundon gang shot Roy Collins dead four years later. As a result of this, the Collins family's 24-hour armed garda protection has been substantially increased.

"There are 24 gardaí who protect me and my family around the clock now. This costs the state €1.5m a year. I do think it's necessary but at the same time I think it's a waste of resources," Steve Collins told the Sunday Tribune.

"These are 24 gardaí who could be out on the street. We had garda protection before Roy's murder, but nothing like now. We are the first witnesses of the state that were got to. Me and my family are heavily protected now. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to get at us again."

Shortly after Roy's murder, the Collins family was offered entrance into the state's Witness Protection Programme.

"They suggested that they could send us to Austria. Don't speak the language and was not interested. I was told it could be arranged that I could meet my parents and extended family members once a year in France. The other country they suggested relocating me and my family to was Canada. We never gave it any serious consideration," he said.

"I was told I couldn't work in the bar trade again but that I could be re-trained as something else, carpentry was suggested to me. I said to them, 'a 55-year-old carpenter? I don't think so.' You also only get a certain amount of financial support in the programme. After about six months or so, you have to be supporting yourself independently."

Collins believes the Witness Protection Programme is only suitable for criminals who have no other options after agreeing to give evidence against their associates. It is entirely unsuitable for law-abiding citizens who agree to give evidence against dangerous criminals.

The programme has been used more by gardaí in the past two years than at any other stage since the scheme's inception in 1997.

Garda have spent €400,000 more than they have been allocated by the government in 2008 and 2009 on the programme, according to figures released to the Sunday Tribune. At no other stage since the programme was adopted has the force used funds beyond its allocation. Last year, the Department of Justice provided €498,000 for witness protection but gardaí used €780,000, while in 2008, €900,000 was provided but €1.16m was spent.