Sunday 21 December 2014

The same steely resolve and sense of justice that made Veronica a hero

Bernie Guerin, who died this week, had all the attributes that made her daughter such a fearless, honorable journalist, writes Paul Williams

Paul Williams

Published 18/01/2014 | 02:30

The grief Bernie Guerin felt over the murder of her beloved daughter was still raw 12 years after John Gilligan's henchmen gunned Veronica down.

"Three minutes and 48 seconds after we spoke, she was dead," whispered Bernie in her only TV interview as she recalled the last time they spoke.

"The name Veronica means 'image of truth'. And I think for a journalist that is a lovely name -- the image of truth," Bernie later said proudly of the daughter whose callous execution had an unprecedented effect on Irish society and left a bottomless pit in her soul.

Yesterday, this unique and wonderfully brave lady was laid to rest after a funeral Mass in Dublin.

She passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning at the age of 84 -- and, like her daughter, she was a fighter right up to her last breath.

In 2008, Bernie honoured me by granting me her first ever interview for the series Dirty Money, the story of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Bernie Guerin with Cate Blanchett at the premier of 'Veronica Guerin'. Photo: Reuters/Jim Ruymen
Bernie Guerin. Photo: David Conachy
Veronica Guerin

Bernie wanted to be involved in the programme because she rightly felt that the establishment of CAB was her daughter's legacy.

She described how she reacted to Veronica's murder in the years following the fateful event that rocked Irish society to its foundations. "I couldn't look at TV nor could I read a newspaper. I couldn't say 'dead'; I couldn't say 'murder'," she said. But despite her years and the trauma of losing her daughter, you could see the same steely determination and sense of justice that made Veronica a heroine.

"The Veronica you knew wasn't an awful lot different to the Veronica I knew. She didn't have a public persona. She was the same all the time. And she loved her job -- she loved her job," she added.

Bernie recalled how she had prayed that Veronica wouldn't lose her driving licence on the morning before Patrick 'Dutchy' Holland shot her dead on the orders of John Gilligan.

"She was murdered on June 26, 1996. She rang me on the Tuesday night and she said: 'Mam, what Mass are you going to in the morning?' I told her and she said: 'Will you say a special prayer for me? I am in court.'

"And I said: 'Oh my God, Veronica -- speeding again were you?'"

That morning, the Sunday Independent journalist was appearing in the district court in Naas for speeding offences.

The judge let her off with a £100 fine and Veronica was thrilled and rang her mum with the good news.

"She phoned and was on top of the world and said: 'Mum, I got off.' And I said: 'Oh God, Veronica that is wonderful.'

''We arranged to meet for tea later at the Berkeley Court Hotel. Three minutes and 48 seconds after we spoke -- she was dead," Bernie's voice faltered as she recalled what would be every parent's worst nightmare.

While Veronica made her way back to Dublin -- secretly stalked by Gilligan's thugs -- Bernie went to a doctor's appointment.

By the time she got to the doctor, her family had been informed of the dreadful news from the Naas Road.

Jimmy, her son, had to break the appalling news to his mother.

"Jimmy arrived and he told me that Veronica had had an accident. And I said: 'My God what are we doing here? Where is she?' And he said, 'She's in St James's' (hospital).

"And I got up to go and, the doctor came in and he said to Jimmy, 'tell your mother the truth'. So, he said: 'Have you heard about Veronica?' And I said, 'yes, isn't it wonderful'. I said: 'Yeah, she phoned me just as I was leaving the house.'

"He said, 'mum, no, I don't mean that.' And I said, 'oh the hundred pounds' (fine). He said, 'no mum'... he said, 'Veronica's dead'.

"I can't remember an awful lot.

''I just remember screaming. My screaming was hurting my ears," Bernie's voice faltering as she relived that moment of unimaginable pain.

Bernie Guerin was buried after a simple ceremony.

She had quietly arranged and paid for her funeral and left instructions that there would be no frills, no tearful tributes, no eulogies, no fuss.

Bernie Guerin often told me that she had no fears of dying because her strong faith told her she had something to look forward to -- being reunited with her daughter again.

Irish Independent

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