As I wrote here at the time, “his killers — and the people who sent them — did more than gun down a father of two and bring pain to a decent and respected family. They demonstrated the potential threat they pose to the State and to decent society.”
Three years after that shocking event, Roy’s parents, Stephen and Carmel, and his close family decided that they could not continue to live their lives looking over their shoulders. They took the difficult decision to leave their many friends and supporters in Limerick and seek a better life abroad under the State’s witness relocation scheme.
The family’s living nightmare had not begun that April day. It had started some five years before, when someone was refused entry to one of Stephen Collins’ pubs on the grounds that they were underage. This very simple and wholly proper act triggered a campaign of intimidation and terror against the family.
Their decision to leave has been an enduring topic of conversation in Limerick since they boarded that plane two weeks ago.
The vast majority of the hundreds of people I have spoken with over that time have nothing but the greatest regard and respect for the Collins family. They are in awe of the family’s courage and bravery in standing up to the thugs who sought to terrorise them.
They wonder how they managed to continue to live in a city that held such painful and terrible memories for them, never mind live there with the constant threat of attack and intimidation.
Stephen and Carmel’s resolve not to be bullied and coerced by the worst elements of our society galvanised the people of Limerick in their determination to end the hold those gangs held over parts of our city.
The Collins family put their determination not to be beaten down by those who had ordered their son’s murder, along with several other acts of violence, ahead of themselves.
The price they paid was a heavy one: a constant garda security presence, following and protecting each of them 24/7. As Stephen Collins himself remarked, when he opened the curtains each morning and saw the gardai outside his house, it was a constant reminder of Roy’s killing.
While their decision to leave Limerick has caused an understandable sadness across the city, people are also pleased to see the family putting their own welfare, calm and peace of mind first.
For many years the Collins family had effectively put the welfare and protection of the people of Limerick on a par with their own. They had done their duty to their fellow citizens, now it was time for them to try to get along with their own family lives.
The tragedy for us in Limerick is that it was not possible for them to do it here. That is no criticism of the Garda. They have made great progress in recent years.
The gang structures are faltering and crumbling, with different factions turning against each other. Those who had once seen themselves as untouchable leaders are now looking very vulnerable.
The sadness is that there are still some youngsters who see themselves as future gang bosses. While their scope may be becoming increasingly limited, their desperation to emerge and their sheer recklessness posed a threat to the Collins’ peace of mind.
Whatever our political differences, I would entirely agree with Justice Minister Alan Shatter when he said the family had “paid a dreadful price for the courage which they showed. I am sure all right-thinking people will wish him and his family well in their move.”
We certainly wish them well. We thank them for all they have suffered and done for the people of Limerick and we are heartened to hear Stephen Collins’ words that they are “not going into hiding” and will not be losing their own identities.
Willie O’Dea is Fianna Fail TD for Limerick city