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Veronica was certainly not one to miss an opportunity

Once she got her teeth into something, the thought of backing down was not entertained, writes Celia Larkin

I can remember the place and the person who told me. And the disbelief. Working in Leinster House at the time, I was crossing the road between Setanta House and the Dail when the late Joe Doyle of Fine Gael told me Veronica Guerin had been shot. Shock, incredulity: this was not something that happened in Ireland. This was something you expected to happen in a South American dictatorship. Not something that happened to a Sunday Independent journalist in civilised Ireland.

I first met Veronica when we were both in our early 20s and active in Ogra Fianna Fail. Sean Haughey was running for a position on the National Youth Committee and Veronica was campaigning with him. Even at that time, she struck me as focused, articulate and driven.

Her fearless work as an investigative journalist probing the lives of Dublin's drug lords surprised me not one bit. Anyone who knew Veronica would know that once she got her teeth into something, the thought of ever backing down would not be entertained for one second. Even my passing acquaintance with her left me in no doubt of that fact.

Some years after our first encounter, when she had become a household name as a reporter, I ran into her in the ladies' room during a function in the Burlington hotel. My relationship with Bertie Ahern had just become public knowledge, and, not one to miss an opportunity, Veronica seized the moment to quiz me.

Completely inexperienced in how to handle such situations, I fled into the nearest cubicle and remained there till she left. When I eventually emerged back into the function room, Veronica, who had been lying in wait, presented me with her telephone number, a reminder of our mutual acquaintanceship in Ogra and a request for an interview. She was certainly not one to miss an opportunity.

As a journalist in search of the truth, she was unquestionably one of the best this country has ever seen. A strong, independent woman. A role model and embodiment of a woman's ability to hold her own in the frightening world of crime journalism.

One could never accuse Veronica of being faint-hearted. Some may have thought her foolhardy. Her loved ones, in retrospect, may have wished her less courageous. But, in life, as in death, she shocked us into facing the ugly reality of Ireland's criminal underworld. Her murder galvanised the country into serious action against drug dealing and led directly to the setting up of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

I feel privileged to have known her, even in a small way. Her courage and strength of character is a shining example, her murder a damming indictment of a society that needed such an atrocity to spur it into action.

Sixteen years is a long, long time. A nation can change and has changed beyond recognition. Yet we remember Veronica Guerin as if her death happened

yesterday -- and as if we'd been close friends with her.

Because she was one of us. The exceptional one of us.

Sunday Independent