Wednesday 7 December 2016

Remembering Veronica's legacy

President Higgins pays tribute to brave Sunday Independent journalist who sacrificed her life

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Tribute: At the Veronica Guerin Anniversary in the Chester Beatty Library last week, were INM Chairman Leslie Buckley, journalist Fergal Keane and INM Group Editor-in-Chief Stephen Rae David Conachy.
Tribute: At the Veronica Guerin Anniversary in the Chester Beatty Library last week, were INM Chairman Leslie Buckley, journalist Fergal Keane and INM Group Editor-in-Chief Stephen Rae David Conachy.

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin on the 20th anniversary of her murder.

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In a special message delivered at an Independent News & Media (INM) memorial event at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin last week, President Higgins said: "She worked tirelessly, and with extreme courage, to expose a drugs trade that wrought so much misery on families and communities around the country."

He added: "Veronica sacrificed her life in order that some of this country's most powerful criminals would eventually be brought to justice, and as a society, we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude."

Veronica was in her car at a set of traffic lights on the Naas Road in Dublin on June 26, 1996, when two men on a motorcycle pulled up beside her and one of them opened fire. The shooting followed her outstanding investigative journalism in the Sunday Independent, exposing the workings of the Irish criminal underworld.

But 20 years after her callous murder, Ireland remains under threat from "enemies of the Republic", the memorial event attended by members of Veronica's family was told.

BBC reporter and Sunday Independent columnist Fergal Keane said that "drug lords are still killing" and threats against journalists continue.

Brendan O’Connor, Cormac Bourke, Tanister Frances Fitzgerald TD and Willy Kealy. Photo: David Conachy.
Brendan O’Connor, Cormac Bourke, Tanister Frances Fitzgerald TD and Willy Kealy. Photo: David Conachy.

"A society which watches hardened criminals create private armies is not a safe society. It is not a society that has paid heed to the memory of Veronica Guerin," he said.

Read more: Remembering Veronica: Terror of the night I was shot

The event was told by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald that the targeting of journalists would not be tolerated.

"In Ireland, we regard an attack on journalists as an attack on the State itself, and any attack will be met with the full wrath of the State, as happened in the aftermath of Veronica's death," she said.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Aherne with Jimmy and Louann Guerin. Photo: David Conachy
Former Taoiseach Bertie Aherne with Jimmy and Louann Guerin. Photo: David Conachy

Ms Fitzgerald said all resources would be given to the gardai to combat the recent spate of gangland murders.

However, she added that action must be taken to combat the far greater numbers who die every week of the year from drug abuse.

The chairman of INM, Leslie Buckley, board members Len O'Hagan, Triona Mullane and Allan Marshall, and chief executive Robert Pitt were present to honour and remember Veronica.

Mr Buckley said that while Veronica had wanted to pursue crime lords profiting from the misery of others, "she has left us with a lasting legacy at INM, which is the encouragement to be brave in the pursuit of the truth".

INM CEO Robert Pitt
INM CEO Robert Pitt

"We will make sure that legacy continues," Mr Buckley added, as he announced that a new bursary for young investigative journalists will be established.

Read more: 'Veronica Guerin was an ordinary person who achieved the extraordinary'

The event was jointly hosted by Stephen Rae, editor-in-chief of INM, and Cormac Bourke, editor of the Sunday Independent.

RTE's Miriam O'Callaghan was MC for the event, which was also attended by Papal Nuncio, His Excellency The Most Rev Charles John Brown, and Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan.

The leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, as well as former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin and former Justice Minister Nora Owen, also attended the event, which featured music, video tributes and a specially commissioned poem on her legacy, entitled The Things Never Said (for Veronica Guerin), written by Joseph O'Connor

Piper Sean Potts
Piper Sean Potts

Sean Potts played a haunting lament on the uilleann pipes, while a song written for Veronica by Christy Moore was sung by Brian Kennedy.

The event was attended by Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan, Irish Times editor Kevin O'Sullivan, Irish Examiner editor Tim Vaughan and Irish Mail on Sunday Editor Conor O'Donnell.

INM group editor-in-chief Stephen Rae said Veronica Guerin did not want to be a hero, but was an ordinary person who achieved the extraordinary through remarkable courage and determination.

Mr Rae pointed out that journalists from the group are still operating at the front line, exposing the activities of the gangs. Earlier this year, two INM journalists received threats to their safety.

Mr Rae said: "We cannot be put off by threats."

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