Monday, October 4, 2010

Veronica Guerin by Ashleigh Hinrichs

“Dying to tell a story: Journalists at Risk,” was the topic Irish reporter Veronica Guerin was scheduled to discuss at a London conference on June 28, 1996 (“Global Journalist”). However, two days before, “dying to tell a story” is exactly what happened to Veronica Guerin. Her brave, revealing journalism, and her award-winning reports of Ireland’s underworld leaders, were exactly what led to her fatality. On June 26, just outside of Dublin, Guerin was met at a stoplight by two men on a motorcycle, one of which fired six rounds from a pistol at close range, killing Ms. Guerin.

Emerging in the mid-90’s as an investigative reporter, Veronica Guerin became a controversial figure. In 1994, she joined the Sunday Independent, writing her subversive and unconventional stories about the underground drug world that plagued the inner city of Dublin. These stories greatly contrasted the images of peaceful countryside that were prominent representations of Ireland (“02/02/97: Veronica Guerin”). From the time she began reporting, she put her life in danger. The stories she publicized were known to her first, sometimes even before police, highlighting her eager divulgence in representing the unknown. Most of the time she would gain this information before her colleagues were able to, thus making her a unique and influential reporter (“02/02/97: Veronica Guerin”).

Her career as an accountant drew her to the financial motives of Irish crime leaders. Guerin was the primary journalist to document the occupations of Irish drug lords in a very proactive manner. She personally contacted them for interviews, interested in how they acquired their finances (Hoge). However, as she became involved in the stories, they influenced her to delve further into the truth. Originally, Guerin used nicknames to identify the men she reported about, due to Ireland’s libel laws (“Global Journalist”). However, in an attempt to dispose of the fictitious images these created, she decided to start using their real names, to familiarize the public with these drug barons. In The Sunday Independent on Dec. 31, she wrote, ‘‘the names by which we now call them are flamboyant inventions which, if anything, only detract from our understanding of their capacity for atrocity”(Hoge). This demonstrates Guerin’s serious interest in revealing the unethical practices of the criminal leaders in the Dublin sphere.

Veronica Guerin, provider of undiluted Irish information, found it her responsibility to provide the truth (“02/02/97: Veronica Guerin”). Guerin’s colleague Kelly Fincham described, “unlike many people in journalism and indeed Dublin, Veronica felt it was a foolish choice to avoid the problem by isolating yourself from it” (Fincham). However, Dublin journalists usually did not occupy themselves with drug problems because they found it ineffective, and not close to home. Guerin was unique, and one of the few who persistently followed and documented the expansive problems of drug politics in Ireland (Fincham). Guerin feared that without her investigative and journalistic reports, the matter would go unnoticed, and Ireland would become a “crime-infested city as the authorities appeared to be ignoring the drug epidemic” (Fincham). This demonstrates Guerin’s relentless desire to persevere the truth, and her ideology that her job was one that must be done.

As Veronica Guerin interviewed and reported these high profile Dublin drug lords, she never thought that her life was in danger. Yet, Guerin’s job put her at high risk, receiving several threats prior to her death. The first threat came in 1994 after she sought to identify the assassins of Martin Cahill, or “the General”, Dublin’s most feared boss. She also published a second article that uncovered Cahill’s private life, including his lovers (Hoge). A month after the article came out, shots were fired into her house. However, this did not stop Guerin as she continued to write about these Dublin criminals. In 1995 she experienced another threat, this one direct and more frontal. The nigh after writing an article that exposed “the Monk” as the organizer behind “the largest robbery in Irish history, in which a gang stole $4.4 million from a maximum-security deport at the airport,” a masked figure appeared at Guerin’s door with a .45-caliber revolver in hand. He held this to her head, but as she fell to the floor, he shot her in the leg, sparing her life at this time (Hoge).

After first two attacks, Guerin continued to report, and stated on her own account:

I have said already, and I will say it again now, that I have no intention of stopping my work. I shall continue as an investigative reporter, the job I believe I do best. My employers have offered alternatives -- any area I wish to write about seems to be open to me -- but somehow I cannot see myself reporting from the fashion catwalks or preparing a gardening column (Hoge).

Fincham describes that Guerin “wasn’t some reckless reporter out to make a name for herself as the great drug crusader. She was a woman who couldn’t understand why more people weren’t taking on the drug baron” (Fincham).

Her final and most abusive confrontation was with John Gilligan, “kingpin of Irish gang crime.” When she went to interview him, he physically assaulted her and verbally told her that if she wrote about him, he would kill her (Hoge). Gilligan has been identified as Guerin’s murderer, although it is suspected that John Traynor, Guerin’s contact with the drug underworld, notified the gang of her whereabouts the day of her death (Healy, and McDonald).

At the time, in ’96, the death of a journalist was unthinkable. Fincham relays that despite the death threats, “it was inconceivable that a criminal would murder a reporter” (Fincham). The Sunday Independent did not prohibit Guerin from propagating these stories, further demonstrating that physical retaliation by a reported figure was implausible at this time. Furthermore, the Sunday Independent did not tell her to stop reporting on Ireland’s criminals because she would have just taken her investigations and information to another news association (“02/02/97: Veronica Guerin”). After Guerin’s death, “the editor of the ‘Sunday Independent’ wrote:

This is Irish Journalism’s Darkest Day. For the first time, a journalist has been murdered for daring to write about the Criminal Underworld and daring to record the lives of the brutal people who inhabit it. It is a brilliant and terrifying attack on the Free Press and on Freedom of Speech, freedom which we take too often for granted (O’Reilly 7).

This provides an example of how, not even by governmental or censorship forces, free press can be suppressed.

Guerin’s death became eminent, in that it set the Irish police on one of the biggest criminal investigations in the nations history (“02/02/97: Veronica Guerin”). It provided a reason for the government to institute new laws that allowed Ireland’s law enforcement to deal with the organized crime that Guerin reported (Hoge). Tony Gregory, a member of Parliament in the Dublin district, reflects how it took the death of a journalist to put the government into action against crime. Gregory comments, “’up until the death of Veronica, the state had no strategy to combat the gangs. There have been more new agencies set up in the past few months than in the previous 15 years’” (Hoge). This further symbolizes the extent of Guerin’s influence, even in death. Also after death, Veronica was awarded IPI World Press Freedom Hero in 2000, an award established to acknowledge the fact that, despite hardships, risk, and in Guerin’s case, sometimes even death, the truth always prevails (“International Press Institute”).


60 minutes:

Murder of Veronica Guerin (clip from movie):

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