The murder of one of Ireland’s most prominent journalists by crime bosses provoked outrage but has not received justice.
Although she is virtually unknown to Americans, Irish crime journalist Veronica Guerin was a legend in Ireland. She wrote eye-opening front-page columns for Ireland’s most popular newspaper, The Sunday Independent. She courted both controversy and danger in her methods of obtaining information, often directly from interviewing criminals themselves, to paint a portrait of Ireland’s gritty, drug-fueled gangland in the 1990s. Ultimately, she became a permanent media fixture when she was executed on June 26, 1996, at the hands of the criminals she exposed in her work. She was driving her car on a motorway outside Dublin and talking on her mobile phone when a motorcycle pulled up alongside her and a man fired six bullets into her upper body, killing her instantly.
In 1996 Guerin was only 37 years old. She was a devoted wife to Graham Turley and a mother to their six-year-old son, Cathal. She had been working as a journalist for six years and had been threatened, assaulted, and shot in the leg by the gangsters whom she had written about in the two years leading up to her murder. She worked alone and with an obsessive tenacity. Guerin aggressively doorstepped the most dangerous criminals in the country. She cajoled sources into revealing information that was so sensitive that it put both them and her in grave danger when it was later splattered across the newspaper pages in her reports. No doubt the situation was volatile, but that did not diminish the terrible shock and public outcry across Ireland after her murder. The Irish could not believe the news, and Guerin’s family, including her mother Bernadette and her brother Jimmy, is still getting past the horrific events.
In the articles written after her execution, the same questions were posed that haunt Ireland today. Where were the police? Why didn’t anyone stop Guerin if she was in so much danger? Was her employer, The Sunday Independent, culpable for not protecting her in her perilous work? What price should be paid for a free press? How could this have happened in Ireland?
Since Guerin’s death, she has become a multifaceted symbol. She is the David battling the Goliath of organized crime. She is the face of the brave reporter working in a danger zone and paying with her life. She is also the face of media exploitation, for her former employer has sold untold numbers of newspapers on the back of her murder and its subsequent criminal trials. As of next month, Veronica Guerin is also the face, and the name, of a Disney movie.
Unfortunately, what Guerin is not, is the face of a victim who has received justice. Those who are believed to be behind her murder have not paid the price for it. John Gilligan, the crime boss, was acquitted of her murder, although he is serving time for drug offenses. Paul Ward, who is alleged to be the logistical organizer of the hit, had his conviction for her murder overturned on appeal in 2002.
In 1999 Brian Meehan was convicted and given a life sentence for Guerin’s murder. He remains the only person serving time for the crime. The prosecution claimed that he was driving the motorcycle that carried her assassin on the day of her murder.
The man prosecutors claimed pulled the trigger, Patrick Holland, was never convicted of murder, although he was convicted of drug dealing. John “The Coach” Traynor is in Spain and has not been extradited back to Ireland to face charges.
In Veronica Guerin’s short life, Ireland was a country transformed from a nation with relatively few demands on its police force and barely any problems with drug barons to a nation battling a drug-abuse crisis. Her attempts to name and shame the criminals led to her own demise and marked the lost innocence of an entire country. ♦