Entertainment TV Reviews

Monday 29 May 2017

Paul Williams: State of Fear: Eight things we learned

96 Sunday World Journalist Paul Williams and photographer Liam O'Connor at the scene of the murder of Journalist Veronica Guerin. Pic Steve Humphreys 26/6/96 1990's NPA/Independent Collection
Veronica Guerin in her hospital bed after being treated for gunshot wounds to her leg. She is pictured with senior executives of Independent Newspapers, David Palmer, Aengus Fanning editor of the Sunday Independent and Liam Healy, CEO. Picture: Matt Walsh/INM
John Gilligan at Portlaoise prison. Picture: TV3/Paul Williams: State of Fear
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Following Gangsters at War earlier this year, Paul Williams returned to TV3 tonight with the first of two parts of State of Fear.

Two decades on from the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, Williams examined the state of play in organised crime today, charted the progression from the 1990s to now, and asked: have things changed that much in society’s war on gangland crime?

Here are eight key moments from tonight’s show: 

1. Veronica didn’t actually take up journalism until 1990, at the relatively advanced age of 32. But she quickly established herself as a serious talent, especially with that 1993 Bishop Eamon Casey scoop. Current Indo Group Editor in Chief Stephen Rae was the first journalist to report on Veronica’s murder in 1996. He described her as “tenacious, exacting…(with a) great moral compass.”

Veronica Guerin in her hospital bed after being treated for gunshot wounds to her leg. She is pictured with senior executives of Independent Newspapers, David Palmer, Aengus Fanning editor of the Sunday Independent and Liam Healy, CEO. Picture: Matt Walsh/INM
Veronica Guerin in her hospital bed after being treated for gunshot wounds to her leg. She is pictured with senior executives of Independent Newspapers, David Palmer, Aengus Fanning editor of the Sunday Independent and Liam Healy, CEO. Picture: Matt Walsh/INM

2. The main lesson learned from her death, he said, was that “investigative journalists shouldn’t work on their own” – because, even in a relatively safe country like Ireland, it can be a dangerous profession. Another peer of Williams, Martin O’Hagan, was murdered in Lurgan in 2001. And after the Regency Hotel attack earlier this year, Gardai reported a threat to the life of Indo and Herald reporters.

3. Crime journo Conor Lally, of the Times, reckoned the fact that the Kinahan gang f”elt comfortable and powerful enough to threaten journalists is an indication of how comfortable and powerful generally they felt.”

4. There’s an aspect of performance to crime, we learned, and how it’s reported. The public has a sense of fascination with crime, and sometimes it becomes another form of entertainment.

5. 2016 was described by Williams as “one of the most bloody years in Irish criminal history” – and, he added, “directly comparable to 1996. Then as now, there were warnings that the State was under threat.” As well as Veronica, of course, that year also saw the murder of Detective Jerry McCabe.

96 Sunday World Journalist Paul Williams and photographer Liam O'Connor at the scene of the murder of Journalist Veronica Guerin. Pic Steve Humphreys 26/6/96 1990's
NPA/Independent Collection
96 Sunday World Journalist Paul Williams and photographer Liam O'Connor at the scene of the murder of Journalist Veronica Guerin. Pic Steve Humphreys 26/6/96 1990's NPA/Independent Collection

6. Veronica’ death, said the RTE News report at the time, marked “a new departure on the Irish crime scene”. It turned Ireland, Paul added, into a “state of fear”. Her brother Jimmy remembered how “even though we were all aware there was a danger, none of us really believed it would happen.” Yet the unthinkable did come to pass.

7. What does the Regency attack say about organised crime in 2016? According to Stephen Rae, “It says to me that nothing really has changed… I’ve been covering this scene for 30 years and have never seen it descend so badly. This is a tribal war and they don’t play by the rules.”

8. The programme ended with BBC journalist Fergal Keane delivering a speech at a commemorative event in Veronica’s honour. To an audience including the Justice Minister and Garda Commissioner, he said, “This is a society where hardened criminals have private armies…it is not a society which truly respects the legacy of Veronica Guerin.”

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