Wednesday 26 October 2016

'We must support journalists in the face of threats ... we must not let them stand alone'

When gangs target the media, it is not just the journalists who suffer, their families hurt too, says Jimmy Guerin

Jimmy Guerin

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

FATEFUL DAY: Journalist Veronica Guerin was killed while in her car on the Naas Road in June 1996
FATEFUL DAY: Journalist Veronica Guerin was killed while in her car on the Naas Road in June 1996
Journalist Veronica Guerin

When I heard the frightening news of journalists' lives being under threat, my immediate thoughts were not alone with the journalists whose lives had been turned upside down, but with their brothers, sisters, spouses and extended families. It brought back some difficult and upsetting memories.

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This is a most difficult time for the families of those journalists. They will now be living in fear that something terrible may happen to their loved ones. They will find themselves being more attentive to news bulletins, and being relieved that there is no bad news concerning their family member.

My family suffered an awful trauma because there had been attempts on my sister Veronica's life prior to her brutal assassination. At that time in Ireland of 1996, there was something of "it will never happen", but it did and no longer is such a threat something to be taken lightly by anyone.

When a family member is under serious threat and a sibling calls a parent, and that parent knows their child's life is in danger, there will be a small pause, a fear that it could be bad news - and when it's not, there will be a sigh of relief. That is an awful sentence for any person to live.

I went to my mother's when Veronica was shot in the leg, having previously had shots fired at her home, incidents some colleagues in other papers joked about and made fun of. I recall the fear in mam's eyes, the shock on her face and, worst of all, the tears in her eyes. Her life changed utterly that day as she worried always about her daughter.

On that terrible June day in 1996, I had to drive to my mother and tell her that Veronica was now dead, having been brutally gunned down as she went about her work - her work protecting us, and being one of the first journalists to expose the cancer of organised crime and drugs that has now spread uncontrollably throughout society.

What people fail to realise is that the bullet that murdered Veronica ricocheted from the Naas road and pierced the heart of her mother. The fragments scarred all of her family and the gunpowder traumatised her colleagues.

I remember calling to my mother's home some weeks after Veronica's funeral, an ordinary visit from her son. A neighbour advised me that mam had gone to the hairdressers, so I went to give her a lift home. When she saw me she panicked, thought something terrible had happened to another member of her family, simply because I turned up unexpectedly.

Twenty years ago, organised crime was just taking hold in Ireland. The gardai and the authorities were unaware of the level of threat against Veronica. No one realised there were gangs controlling a drug business valued at €100m per annum.

Now we have a drug business worth many multiples of that, far more organised crime, and more ruthless individuals who would think nothing of taking any life. These threats must be taken seriously. I admire the journalists and admire the bravery they display as they go about their work. They did not want to find themselves in this position, and we, as a country, must not let them stand alone.

Independent Newspapers is a different place now; it, too, has learned from the unprecedented events of 1996, and it decided to publish the threats. We, as a people, have a great opportunity to tell our politicians we will not stand for the freedom of the press being interfered with.

As politicians from all sides knock on your door, as they greet you at the schools and shopping centres, make them aware not only of your concerns about health, water and so on, but let them know we want the gangs smashed and the rule of law and order restored.

That's how we can support these journalists who shine a light into the murky yet growing side of Ireland today as it celebrates the centenary of 1916.

And, please, when we hear of threats to brave journalists who are serving us in a way our politicians are failing, please spare a thought for their extended families.

Believe me, they suffer more than you will ever know - they worry and they, too, live in fear.

Sunday Independent

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