How a courageous man stood up to notorious criminals
It should have been an innocuous interaction at a pub doorway between a barman and some customers. But it was to be the beginning of an unimaginable nightmare which cast an innocent family into a headlong confrontation with pure evil.
The time, 9.25pm on Sunday, December 19, 2004, is the moment when Wayne Dundon invaded the lives of Steve Collins and his family.
The man described as the most dangerous criminal in Limerick had arrived at the door of Brannigans pub, demanding that his 14-year-old sister Annabel be allowed in to drink.
Steve's stepson, Ryan Lee, told Dundon that he could not allow the child inside because it was against the law.
Legislation had been introduced which made it a serious offence to allow children under a certain age to be on a licensed premises after 9 pm.
But Dundon had no respect for any law. He flew into one of his infamous, murderous temper tantrums and threatened Ryan's life. Then he stormed off into the night.
Less than half an hour later a gunman, believed to be Dundon himself, walked into the bar and shot Ryan Lee at close range, seriously injuring him. The young barman, who had lost both his parents at a young age, was hospitalised for months as doctors re-built his knee. Despite serious efforts to intimidate and frighten Ryan Lee and Steve Collins, the father and stepson stood up in court and testified against the gang boss. In 2005 Dundon was convicted and initially sentenced to 10 years in prison – the sentence was reduced on appeal to seven.
Dundon swore vengeance on this innocent family and put them on a journey through a living hell.
The Collins family were to endure an unprecedented, sustained assault on a completely innocent family which had never been seen before in this country.
The shooting of Ryan Lee was followed by an arson attack in which Steve's business was burnt to the ground. It led to the contract murder of Roy Collins four years later which Dundon ordered his most trusted lieutenant, Nathan Killeen, to organise.
In addition, the family have been pushed to near penury and they have suffered post-traumatic stress. They lived for years under police protection and were finally forced to leave their country as part of a witness relocation programme. By the time Dundon stormed up to the front door of Brannigans, his family-based gang the Dundon/McCarthys – dubbed Murder Inc – had been involved in a brutal mob feud for two years.
The gang earned its sobriquet because they purposely murdered more innocent people than any other criminal mob in gangland history.
The victims included a nightclub bouncer Brian Fitzgerald and rugby player Shane Geoghegan.
Fitzgerald was murdered because, like the Collins's, he inadvertently stepped on their toes. Geoghegan was shot in a case of mistaken identity.
The three Dundons who are now convicted murderers had no difficulty killing anyone who got in their way.
But their biggest miscalculation was the murder of Roy Collins. His father Steve emerged as an everyday hero, who stood up and said enough was enough.
He brought at least 5,000 people on to the streets of Limerick in an unprecedented public demonstration against the gangs that had blighted the ancient city.
Steve's courageous campaign forced the Government to introduce tough anti-gang legislation and ensured the gardai were given the resources in the longest-running criminal investigation in state history.
Ironically it was as a result of new anti-crime measures brought in after Roy's murder that Wayne Dundon and Nathan Killeen were tried in the Special Criminal Court.
Today this evil gang is no more. And we can thank the bravery and resilience of an innocent family.