Justice Minister pledges to 'stand down' criminals threatening journalists
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has recalled the "chilling murder" of Veronica Guerin as she pledged to "stand down" the gangland criminals threatening the lives of journalists at Independent News and Media (INM).
The Fine Gael politician last night committed to boosting An Garda Síochána's intelligence unit amid heightening concerns over the two recent cold-blooded murders in Dublin.
"Whatever the Gardaí feel they need to tackle these criminals by way of personnel or whatever, they will not be found wanting," Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent.
There has been widespread shock and condemnation, both nationally and internationally, in response to the news that two INM journalists have been formally warned that their safety is at risk from gangsters.
Security for the two journalists, who have vigorously reported on the activities of two major gangs involved in a bloody feud, has been enhanced since the threats were formally notified by gardaí. Describing the threats as "outrageous" and "abhorrent", Ms Fitzgerald said she would not tolerate attempts by gangsters to "close down" the reporting of criminal activity by INM publications.
She expects a safety and protection plan to be put in place in order to protect journalists who have been told that their lives are in danger.
"Any threat to any member of the Fourth Estate [the press] is a threat to any and all of us. It is a threat to freedom of speech," Ms Fitzgerald said.
The Dublin Mid-West TD added that the threats had brought back memories of the death of Veronica Guerin, the 'Sunday Independent' journalist who was gunned down by the drug-trafficking gang led by John Gilligan in June 1996.
"We cannot and will not tolerate threats to Irish journalists. I, like many others, will always remember the day when Veronica Guerin was murdered.
"I remember that chill I felt that day. But we stood down these gangs before and we will stand down these gangs again," she added.
Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald described the garda investigations into the murders of David Byrne and Eddie Hutch Snr as "very challenging".
No arrests have been made to date as gardaí prepare to put in place major policing operations for the victims' funerals.
The Justice Minister said she expected Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to start ramping up overtime in response to a €3.5m funding package from the Government.
"There is detailed, painstaking work being done but it is proving very challenging," said Ms Fitzgerald.
She also revealed that there were "intensive" discussions taking place between gardaí and police in Spain, Belgium and the UK as part of the crackdown on Irish gangsters operating outside of the country.
The minister detailed plans to release gardaí from desk duties to fight frontline crime if Fine Gael was returned to power.
Speaking at an event in Cork, she said an extra 1,800 officers would be recruited to stand up to the ruthless gangs responsible for the recent killings.
Also on the campaign trail yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was appalled at the threats against INM journalists.
"We hope and trust that gardaí have the resources (to arrest and charge those responsible)," he added.