Jonathan Dowdall to be relocated to English-speaking country with financial support under witness protection scheme

Dublin man and his family in protective Garda custody after he agreed to give evidence relating to the Regency Hotel shooting

Jonathan Dowdall is to be given a new identity and relocated in an English-speaking country with some limited financial support as part of efforts to keep him safe after he agreed to provide evidence relating to the 2016 Regency Hotel shooting.

Preliminary assessments are continuing regarding the 44-year-old’s entry into the State’s witness security programme but officials have tentatively agreed that he will be permitted to enter it for his own safety.

Once Dowdall has served any sentence handed down by the Special Criminal Court for his role in the planning of the Dublin attack, he will be set up in a foreign country, likely to be the United States, Canada or Australia, where he will be under the protection of local security services.

These security services will liaise with gardaí from the witness security team, part of the Garda Crime and Security Service, according to sources familiar with the programme.

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Dowdall will be given some financial assistance and possibly be enrolled in training or education programmes to help him start his new life.

It is believed his immediate family will likely remain in Ireland where they will receive significant Garda protection. The next step is for Dowdall to undergo a psychological assessment to determine if he is likely to abide by the terms of the programme.

As Ireland’s witness security programme lacks any statutory footing, there will be no penalty if Dowdall refuses to continue to comply with the terms of programme, aside from the potential withdrawal of financial support. However, anyone who tries to determine his whereabouts or his new identity may face prosecution under the Criminal Justice Act 1999.

The married father-of-four first indicated he was willing to turn State’s witness last year. Last week he made a formal statement implicating others in the attack, in which David Byrne (34) was killed and others were wounded. He also committed to giving evidence in the trial of Gerry Hutch, who is charged with murder, and two other men accused of providing the vehicles used in the attack.

At this point Dowdall, a former Sinn Féin councillor, and his family were immediately taken into protective Garda custody.

The State dropped the murder charge Dowdall was facing on Monday. Along with his father, Patrick Dowdall, he has now pleaded guilty to the less serious charge of assisting a criminal organisation, namely by booking a hotel room used by one of the gunmen.

Both men will learn their final sentence on October 17th.

Counsel for Mr Hutch have now requested that his trial, which had been due to begin yesterday afternoon, be adjourned in light of the developments.

Dowdall’s evidence requires a “fundamental reappraisal of the defence strategy”, the defence said as the matter was adjourned until next Monday, when an update will be sought.

Jonathan and Patrick Dowdall appeared at the Special Criminal Court amid an extensive security operation.

Michael O’Higgins SC, Jonathan Dowdall’s barrister, said his client’s agreement to testify is “hard currency” and that his life will never be the same again. Counsel said his client will be living in exile, constantly looking over his shoulder and unable to return to visit except perhaps under the utmost secrecy.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times