The murder of Veronica Guerin 25 years ago will be forever remembered as one of the most reprehensible in the history of the State.
Her murder provoked international outrage and marked the depths of the depravity of Irish criminals. It was an attack on the fundamental freedoms of our society and caused untold grief to her family, friends and colleagues.
This calculated murder robbed a husband of his wife, a son of his mother, a mother of her daughter, brothers and sisters of a treasured sibling, and journalism of a brave, fearless and courageous writer. It was the first time in the history of the State that a journalist made the supreme sacrifice in the pursuit of their vocation and demonstrated a new and appalling nadir.
Veronica is universally remembered with great pride as a journalist of immense courage who took a stand against malevolent forces and who inspired the entire political class to concerted action. Despite differences between parties on so many issues, we were, as one, horrified by the viciousness of organised criminals, but quickly moved beyond rhetoric to a swift, effective, and unified response.
Six weeks after her murder the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 was enacted. Two months after that the Criminal Assets Bureau Act was passed. In doing so, the Oireachtas created an innovative model for depriving murderers and drug pedlars of the proceeds of their crimes. This will continue to be Veronica’s enduring legacy.
Of course, Veronica is not the only journalist on this island to have lost their life in the course of, or because of, their work. Martin O’Hagan, a Sunday World journalist, was shot and killed in Lurgan in September 2001. Like Veronica, he paid the ultimate price for his fearless work. I also think in particular of Lyra McKee, another brave woman who, only two years ago, was killed while reporting on orchestrated disturbances in Derry on Good Friday 2019.
Her death brought together communities in the North in a way that had not been seen for many years. The LGBTI+ community lost a powerful advocate that day, and we all lost another fine writer and commentator with her whole life ahead of her.
Sadly, the truth is that journalists across this island continue to face vicious abuse, threats of violence and worse. While we have seen an increasing number of attacks and threats against journalists covering public demonstrations, disturbingly we most regularly see it in the threats made through social media.
I know from speaking to journalists, male and female, that this is a daily occurrence, with online trolls targeting them with hateful vitriol for simply reporting facts.
I have great trust in the Irish media. They certainly make our lives as politicians more difficult, but that is their job. And I would not have it any other way. They put the tough questions to those in power, and they do this on your behalf. They are the conduit through which the public can seek accountability from all parties; those in Government and those in opposition.
We have been reminded of the importance of a free and independent media throughout the pandemic. Their work delivering factual information to the public on Covid-19 has been invaluable, a vital antidote to the misinformation which has circulated throughout the public health emergency, and their reporting has brought home the real tragedy of these last 18 months to us all.
Journalism holds an incredibly important place in Irish society; it is a profession we can trust and one which we must respect.
We are lucky to have many fine journalists working in Ireland today, but 25 years on from that fateful afternoon in June 1996, we remember one of our finest, who was taken far too soon, but whose legacy will live on for generations to come. Most fundamentally, Veronica was such a loss to her beloved family who are in my thoughts on this most difficult day.
Heather Humphreys is Minister for Justice.