By Cormac O’Keeffe
Irish Examiner
March 28, 2012

Criminal gangs are a “bigger threat” to the security of the state than the IRA or any other terrorist group ever were, a former Garda chief said yesterday.

Martin Donnellan, one of the country’s most well- known detectives, said there was a great danger a garda or an innocent member of the public would be killed because of the firepower now available to gangs.

A former assistant commissioner, Mr Donnellan described Steve Collins, who was forced to leave Limerick at the weekend under the Garda protection programme, as very brave.

The businessman and his family left the country because of continuing intimidation. Mr Collins’ son Roy was shot dead by a member of the notorious McCarthy-Dundon gang in 2009.

“Steve Collins was a very brave man,” Mr Donnellan said on Newstalk yesterday. “I think as a result of that, now he’s having to leave the country, having lost his son in the most appalling circumstances.”

Mr Donnellan said gardaí in Limerick, backed up by national units, had done a “wonderful job” in the last five years. He said, at the time, the gangs seemed to have got a grip on the city.

“They seemed to be trying to run crime as if there were no gardaí around. Now I know gardaí were trying and getting fantastic results in Limerick, but the murders were continuing.”

He said the situation has since changed: “The crime rate has dropped dramatically down there and the shootings have certainly dropped dramatically, and that is down to the great work being done by the gardaí and the community and all the other agencies.”

He called on people to continue helping gardaí.

“For crime to flourish, for this type of terrorism to take over, all it takes is for good men to do nothing.

“Now I’m sure when Steve Collins stood up and said we can’t take any more of this thuggery here, he didn’t envisage they would go to the extreme of shooting his son dead. I think that was the lowest moment of all.”

He said it would be a great pity if resources were not available for the gardaí to keep on top of the criminals.

“I believe there should be no let up in the chasing of those gangland figures, absolutely no let up by the guards or anybody else.

“They are a bigger threat to the security of this state, I believe, than the Provisional IRA, the INLA, or any of those groups, ever were. We had Veronica Guerin — it was all because they wanted to get on top.”

Mr Donnellan said, recently, a man was found in possession of two machine guns in Dublin. “If that type of hardware is on the street, there is a great danger that a guard or a member of the public or some innocent bystander will be shot.”

He said it was crucial that “time and money” was spent with children by gardaí at community level, in the likes of schools and sports clubs, to build up relationships.