Veronica Guerin was an investigative reporter who paid the ultimate price of being a strong woman.
Back in the mid 1990s the Republic of Ireland earned the nickname ‘Celtic Tiger’ because of the tremendous economic boom that occurred, changing the south of Ireland from a poor country to one of vast riches. But with an increase in the fluidity of money came an increase in drug traffic.
Veronica had been born and raised in Dublin where Vikings had once settled long ago and the revered Book of Kells from the ninth century is still on display at Trinity College. She was schooled at Trinity and later dabbled in accounting, then public relations, and finally found her niche in journalism. Switching newspapers more than once, she reveled in the adrenaline rush of gaining needed information to flesh out a riveting story. Her investigative reporter instincts soon gained her a reputation of disregarding her own personal safety in exchange for coveted inside information.
By 1994 she was writing for the Sunday Independent and began to focus on criminal activity in Dublin – specifically the drug trade. Using her accounting background, she was able to ferret out information on some of the suspected illegal assets of the drug barons; but she could not name any of the kingpins due to Ireland’s strict libel laws.
Instead she assigned them fictitious names and wrote story after story about their wealthy lifestyles and the unaccounted incomes that sustained their lavish way of living. She received numerous death threats, but largely ignored them until a gunshot shattered a window in the home she shared with her husband and small son. Instead of being intimidated, she decided to fight back.
She began an even more aggressive investigation as she wrote about the key players of the Dublin drug trade. The death threats increased and a few months later she answered her door to a hit man who aimed a gun directly at her face, but then shot her in the leg. The message was clear.
Anyone at this point would have been faced with the monumental decision of whether or not to continue writing the exposés in the face of serious danger. But to give up her writing, would be allowing the drug lords to win. She drew a line in the sand, dug in her heels, and refused to compromise her goal of bringing their stories to public awareness.
On June 26, 1996, ten days before her 38th birthday, while waiting for a red light to change, Veronica Guerin was the first reporter in Ireland to be murdered. She was shot to death in broad daylight on the M7 motorway outside of Dublin.
The drug barons had finally silenced her after all.
What they didn’t manage to silence was the incredible outpouring of public outrage over her murder. The resulting investigation of her death eventually led to the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau where the lucrative financial assets of convicted felons could be confiscated by the government.
The two men who had pulled up on the death squad motorcycle and shot her six times at point blank range, were later convicted, as were several of their accomplices. Her death also led to the arrest and or conviction of more than 150 members of the Irish drug empire, and drug crimes dropped significantly.
Since 1996, Veronica has been remembered in word and song, in accolades and on plaques, and memorialized as a folk hero. Her name stands as a whispered prayer among families whose loved ones are investigative journalists all over the world, also pursuing the truth about abusive power and crippling crime.
Today Dublin is still the fair capital of the Republic of Ireland, with bustling shops on Grafton Street and pubs filled with cheers of “Sláinte”. I wish I could report that Ireland is also free of drugs, but that would not be true. According to The Journal, a Dublin newspaper, Ireland still ranks among the top five countries of Europe in terms of cocaine usage.
I can only imagine that the angels are weeping.
For additional reading, consult Veronica Guerin, written by Emily O’Reilly, available at http://www.barnesandnoble.com.
“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
~ Thucydides, reprinted in Pearls of Wisdom by Keith Adams
Thanks always to Dixie Hallaj, my grammar checker.