Veronica Guerin (1959-1996) is an emblematic figure of Irish journalism, known for having sacrificed her life at the price of truth. Here is a look back at her life and her fight for press freedom and her fight against drugs.
After studying in Catholic schools, Veronica begins studying accountancy at Trinity College in Dublin in order to follow in the footsteps of her father, himself an accountant… After graduation, her father hired her to work for his public relations firm but died in 1983, when Veronica Guerin decided to change her career path…
In 1990, she began working as a journalist, initially for the Sunday Business Post. She liked the work, and her style was rather incisive, which attracted the attention of the City’s Sunday Tribune, another Irish newspaper that offered her a job.
It was not until 1994 that she joined the team of the newspaper with a very large circulation, the Sunday Independent. She made a name for herself in the Irish journalistic world thanks to the virulence of her articles denouncing swindlers, organised crime and the drug market. A woman of the field, she does not hesitate to infiltrate dangerous environments, neglecting her security and not hesitating to visit the big shots of the Irish mob in their homes in order to draw them out.
Her investigation into the drug scene began to attract serious threats. As soon as the first article about drug trafficking in Ireland was published in 1994, two bullets were fired at her home. However, nothing stopped the journalist, determined to shake up the major players in the drug trade…
In January, a man knocked on his door, assaulted him at gunpoint and finally put a bullet in his thigh at close range.
Having just recovered from her attack, she was taken by her husband to the home of several presumed culprits of her attack in order to demand a confession. An alarm was installed and a police escort accompanied her on her journey. Aware that the presence of the police at her side hindered her investigative work, she asked for this measure to be lifted.
September 1995: his investigation into the Dublin drug cartel takes him to the home of a man named John Gilligan. In the eyes, she asks him where he gets his income from to maintain such an important equestrian centre. The owner immediately beats her up and tears her clothes off in search of microphones. He then threatens to rape her son and kill her if a single article referring to her is published. Scared and traumatized, she nevertheless refuses to stop her investigations.
In December 1995 she received the Press freedom award for her bravery.
Exasperated by the journalist’s interference in their dirty work, an order is given by the Irish mob to eliminate her. Her murder took place on the afternoon of June 26, 1996. At an intersection, stopped at a red light, she calls a friend. A motorbike mounted by two men arrived at her level, the passenger opened fire five times at close range killing the young woman instantly.
His funeral is attended by thousands of people. The president and members of the government follow the procession.
The one who became Ireland’s first “repentant”, Charles Bowden allowed the arrest of the main culprits. In October 1996, police arrested heroin trafficker Paul Ward (Gilligan’s right-hand man) for involvement in the murder of Veronica Guerin. He had supplied the gun and motorcycle and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Dublin Special Criminal Court.
On 29 July 1999, Brian Meehan, arrested in the Netherlands in October 1997, was also convicted of participating in the murder and charged with 17 other counts. Extradited from Great Britain, John Gilligan, whose direct involvement in the murder could never be (or was never intended to be) proven, was arrested for laundering and trafficking in cannabis and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Subsequently, the Irish government included in its constitution a law allowing the seizure of the assets of criminals guilty of laundering drug money.
The citizens of Dublin’s drug-infected neighbourhoods rose up and made life impossible for the drug dealers. On 15 March 2001 John Gilligan was acquitted of the journalist’s murder and is serving his sentence in Portlaoise prison for cannabis trafficking.