Saturday 1 October 2016

Twenty years on, it seems like Veronica died in vain

Ruthless criminal gangs continue to dictate how lives are lived and lost in Ireland's communities

Jimmy Guerin

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

He should still be in jail: John Gilligan, the gangster who ordered the murder of Veronica Guerin, at the Four Courts in Dublin last week
He should still be in jail: John Gilligan, the gangster who ordered the murder of Veronica Guerin, at the Four Courts in Dublin last week

Ireland has changed for the worse since Veronica was brutally assassinated in June 1996 on the orders of pint-sized gangster John Gilligan.

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Twenty years on, her family still have to watch as he avails of millions of euro in free legal aid and continually mounts vexatious challenges to decisions that went against him in favour of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Veronica Guerin
Veronica Guerin

In my view, Gilligan should be in jail. We are at least owed that.

Twenty years on, the killings on our streets are worse than before. In the 12 months before Veronica's death there were 10 gangland killings, and at the time of her assass- ination they remained unsolved. The then Justice Minister Nora Owen referred to the spate of killings as a result of "thieves falling out with thieves". The gunmen and the gangsters believed they were untouchable; they were literally getting away with murder and making millions from their drug empires. The kingpin then was John Gilligan.

Veronica was exposing Gilligan, and when she doorstepped him in 1996 he brutally assaulted her. He beat her black and blue. Veronica was determined to have him brought before the courts and made accountable for his savage behaviour. This would have resulted in a jail sentence for the thug and would have threatened his drugs business, which was making millions each month. Gilligan had amassed a small fortune since his release from prison only three years earlier.

He was determined not to face Veronica in court. He tried to bully her into dropping the case, he made disgusting threats against her then young son, he tried to bribe her - but when he realised that Veronica could be neither bought nor bullied, he ordered her assassination.

He believed that once Veronica was murdered he would just have to lie low for a few weeks and the heat would die down. This was to be the biggest mistake Gilligan would ever make. He underestimated the outrage that would result from Veronica's murder. People were shocked and disgusted at what had happened.

The images of Veronica lying dead in her covered car on the Naas Road brought it home to people that we faced a serious threat from criminals. Two weeks earlier, Det Gda Jerry McCabe was brutally murdered by an IRA cell as he escorted cash-in-transit in Adare, Co Limerick. People demanded action, and the Government had to act.

Dublin was a bad place in June 1996. Veronica's cold-blooded murder made politicians realise that society was at war with criminals and society was losing. The Government reacted, resources were provided and legislation was introduced that resulted in Gilligan's gang being smashed. We could have gone on and won the war, but we drew back after winning the battle and now we are paying dearly for our mistakes.

Twenty years on, things are much worse. There are more killings on our streets than in 1996, more drugs available, more guns in the hands of criminals. The gangs now are as well-equipped as our depleted Garda force.

Earlier this year, Gilligan was afraid to return from England where he had fled after a failed attempt on his life. He was not afraid of the garda surveillance he knew he would be under. He was afraid of the criminals who had taken control of our city. He sought permission from Christy Kinahan to return and take his case. The Kinahan cartel assured him he would be safe.

Twenty years on, this is how Dublin is run.

The reality is that gangs are bigger, better-resourced and more heavily-armed than ever. Criminals no longer fear the gardai, who they know are under-resourced. Unlike 20 years ago, families are now terrorised into paying drug debts of relatives and are afraid to report it to the gardai. Criminal gangs have taken control. In many areas law and order is no more.

Two weeks ago, to express support for a community and express my horror at the ongoing killings, I attended the funeral of the late Gareth Hutch, who was murdered not far from a Garda checkpoint. I sensed the fear of those in the church, a community who feel that people don't care because "it's thieves falling out with thieves".

Twenty years on, it may be a journalist, a politician or a garda on duty who is next shot dead. Then Enda Kenny may feel he has to do something as opposed to believing there is nothing he can do.

Veronica's family have watched for the past 20 years as those responsible for her murder have continued with their criminality, continued to make millions from drugs and continued to use the free legal aid system.

Only eight weeks ago, I attended the Court of Criminal Appeal with retired Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey. Brian Meehan, the only gang member convicted of Veronica's murder, was claiming a miscarriage of justice; he lost, yet we still had to sit through this event.

It was not just another day. It was painful to have to sit in a courtroom and watch your sister's killer smirk, smile and exchange jokes with family members, yet show no remorse whatsoever for the horrible crime they had committed.

They arrive in their designer clothes and yet obtain free legal aid. They are giving two fingers not only to Veronica's family but to society as a whole.

Veronica loved football. On the day she was murdered she would have been looking forward to watching the England v Germany game that was played that evening. Instead, she lay in a morgue in Blanchardstown Hospital, her body riddled with bullets as those responsible for her murder partied, celebrating her death, as they watched the match in the Hole in The Wall Pub.

Twenty years on, Veronica will not get to see the current European Championship finals, but her family must take care: we could walk into a pub and see those responsible for her killing still partying at the bar and enjoying the game.

Sunday Independent

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