In Boston in recent weeks, the trial of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger ended when the Irish-American mob boss and multiple murderer was sent to jail for the rest of his life. This conviction would have been impossible had some of Bulger’s inner circle not given evidence against him. This took considerable courage, or forceful persuasion, as Bulger murdered construction worker Michael Donahue in 1982 for no reason other than he gave a lift to a potential witness against Bulger.
Bulger’s crimes were not confined to America, as he also supplied arms to the IRA, but thankfully they were seized before they were landed. Subsequently, Bulger had the person who leaked information about the shipment murdered.
Several weeks ago, a long-awaited planning corruption trial collapsed when the central witness, the informant Frank Dunlop, who had given details of his dealings with politicians involved in planning votes, became too ill to continue to give evidence.
Last week, in an Irish case with a lot in common with Bulger’s, the murderer John Dundon was sent to jail because two women, sisters April and Lisa Collins, had the considerable courage required to give evidence against him in open court. The bravery required to do this should not be underestimated, as several witnesses in other gangland trials were struck with sudden bouts of amnesia, presumably provoked by those against whom they might testify. It is also believed that the Collins sisters were offered considerable inducements to withdraw their testimony. That they did not underlines their courage.
Their courage, and their great contribution to improving this society and the much maligned city of Limerick, was recognised yesterday when the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Brendan Leahy praised them. “Naming an evil, though often painful to do, is always a necessary moment in overcoming it,” he said.
The Collins sisters broke the omerta that vicious, dangerous society-wreckers such as Dundon depend on, and they are to be congratulated and honoured for that. But they deserve more than words, far more than a pat on the back. They deserve every support and protection this society can offer to ensure that their example is a victory for civil society rather than another chance for the criminals to spread their terror.
The women’s actions offer us all an opportunity to reconsider our cultural position on sharing details of wrongdoing with the proper authorities. It seems that this misguided sense of honour has been abused, sometimes as an excuse for silence, in a way that protects criminals. Betraying your countrymen to an occupying force is one thing, but standing up for the society we all share by exposing criminality is something completely different. It is time we learned the difference and acted accordingly.
The Collins sisters’ bravery should be a spur, too, to our legislators who should expedite long-awaited whistle-blower protection legislation.