Veronica Guerin 20th anniversary: Veronica's death taught us that the pursuit of justice must be relentless
Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30
On this the twentieth anniversary of the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin, perhaps it is appropriate to reflect on the immediate response of the Garda authorities and the dramatic changes that were implemented in policing in the aftermath of the brave journalist's death.
I never met Veronica, but I spoke with her a number of times on the telephone and found her focused, sharp and urbane.
At that time I was a police adviser with the United Nations in Zagreb, Croatia, where the situation was extremely volatile. Ireland, in comparison, had seemed such a peaceful and untroubled place. So the news of Veroncia's murder was shocking. The question on everyone's lips was: 'How did it come to this? Who is next?' For it seemed the balaclava men had thrown down a marker: 'We are in charge - do not meddle.'
The Ireland of 1996 in policing terms was different to today. The strength of the force was 10,817 members, compared to the current strength of 12,789. There were 42 murders committed in 1996 while in 2014 there were 80 murders.
The brutal killing of Veronica Guerin marked a watershed in policing in Ireland. The authorities were forced to act with speed and determination. Legislation giving more powers to the gardai was enacted. The Commissioner of the day, Pat Byrne, set up a robust, dedicated investigation team led by a world class investigator, Tony Hickey, who later became an Assistant Garda Commissioner. The team, adequately resourced, set about their work in a professional, diligent manner and over time succeeded in dismantling a fearsome and ruthless criminal empire. The ringleaders received custodial sentences and are serving time in jail today.
The establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) following the murder of Veronica was and has proved to be one of law enforcement's most effective weapons against criminal activity. This specialist unit has seized millions of euro from criminals, with this money going back to the State. Essentially, the role of CAB is to deprive criminals of wealth derived from illegal conduct.
At the time of the murder DNA profiling was in its infancy in Ireland. This method was further developed and is now regarded as a vital element in crime investigation.
DNA is generally used to solve crimes in two ways. In cases where a suspect is identified, a sample of that person's DNA can be compared to evidence from the crime scene. The results of this comparison help to establish if the suspect committed the crime. In cases where a suspect has not yet been identified, biological evidence from the scene may be analysed and compared to known offender profiles.
Crime-scene evidence can also be linked to other crime scenes through the use of DNA databases. It is amazing that it has taken more than 20 years to establish a DNA database and that it only became operational last November. To date, more than 200 crimes have been solved through its use.
In terms of gangland activity today, the characteristics are chillingly similar to those of 1996. Murders are commonplace and committed with impunity, and drug dealing seems to continue unabated.
While the Gardaí are tackling this criminal activity with considerable success, the effects of the Garda cutbacks are now becoming apparent. Reduced capital investment, overtime cutbacks, and the halt on recruitment are all having an impact. Skilled crime investigators were incentivised to retire, and vital detective training has also been curtailed.
To be effective, the battle against organised crime should continue uninterrupted and relentlessly. It is not an activity that can be switched on and off. In the period after Veronica's murder we witnessed a clear demonstration of Garda competence and professionalism. The expertise and dedication is still present in the force - why wait for another attack on democracy to trigger it? The untouchables must be confronted and the rule of law restored.
Michael Carty is a retired Chief Superintendent in the Garda Síochána. A former head of the ERU, he was personal assistant to Commissioner Pat Byrne and served overseas as a police adviser in the UN