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Thank you, Veronica. You made the devil’s work that bit more difficult

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History is replete with bleak reminders of how, if we do not challenge those who abuse power, our rights and values are threatened. Above, Veronica Guerin. Photo: Photocall Ireland

History is replete with bleak reminders of how, if we do not challenge those who abuse power, our rights and values are threatened. Above, Veronica Guerin. Photo: Photocall Ireland

History is replete with bleak reminders of how, if we do not challenge those who abuse power, our rights and values are threatened. Above, Veronica Guerin. Photo: Photocall Ireland

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations, wrote George Orwell. A quarter of a century ago, mother, wife, and reporter Veronica Guerin, was murdered for having the audacity to write what someone did not wish to read.

Gang leaders of the day had convinced themselves they were invincible. If they could run rings around the gardaí, no mere woman would lay a glove on them.

They were wrong on both counts. Proving them so would tragically cost Veronica her life. Our nation’s indignation was total.

Laws were revised and resources found to move against the crime bosses in a way they never imagined. The thugs relied on fear and the rule of the gun. But as American writer Walter Lippmann wrote: “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.”

It’s unlikely the devil was shamed, but for a time, Veronica, to her credit, certainly made his work that bit more difficult. The Proceeds of Crime Act was introduced within two months of her death. And the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) would force many drug barons to flee the country. Their lavish living and gaudy baubles would no longer be flaunted.

Revealing crime and corruption has long been life-threatening. Today the drugs industry has become a multi-billion euro, ever more cut-throat hell-scape. CAB has even employed 100 “wealth profilers” to track their fortunes not just in assets but across the web, through the use of alternative currencies. As the stakes get higher, so too do the dangers.

Journalists across the world are put under threat. The public has a right to know what is happening and the institutions of the State must support that right. No crime in living memory appalled the nation as much as Veronica’s murder.

Her work helped expose the then most powerful crime bosses in the country. They may have been replaced many times since, and the need to hold the bully to account, is if anything, more pressing.

Nonetheless her death reverberated with devastating consequences in gangland.

As the former Newsweek editor and author Jonathan Alter wrote: “It sometimes takes a while for some to figure out that the reporters they think of as little bugs to be squashed or spun can be more powerful than they are.” Veronica’s killers would come to that uncomfortable realisation in their prison cells.

When we see moves against press freedoms in the heart of Europe, we should all feel a chill of fear. History is replete with bleak reminders of how, if we do not challenge those who abuse power, our rights and values are threatened.

Centuries ago, Napoleon noted: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”. If they were, or will be in future – whether online or in print, it is because of stands taken by people like Veronica Guerin, and a public that stands with them.

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