Veronica Guerin legacy has remained relevant to present times

Veronica Guerin’s black and gold Mont Blanc pen makes for a poignant exhibit at the Journalists Memorial in the Newseum museum of news in Washington.

Veronica Guerin legacy has remained relevant to present times

It sits among the personal effects of many journalists from around the world killed while doing their jobs.

Laptops, passports, notebooks, even the remains of a booby-trapped car are among the symbols of lives lived and lost in the pursuit of delivering news.

Some of those remembered were caught in crossfire while covering conflicts, others were deliberately targeted for execution by state, security or criminal forces. Each represents a unique story of professional endeavour and personal loss.

Veronica’s story is all the more remarkable for the almost accidental way in which she became the country’s best known reporter.

She was born and reared in the Dublin suburb of Artane on July 5 1958, the second youngest of three sisters and two brothers. Her mother, Bernie, was from Donegal and her father, Christopher, was an accountant with his own practice.

Sport was her early passion and she excelled in athletics, basketball and football, but her original career goal was to join her father’s business and she studied accountancy and worked alongside him briefly until his death in 1982.

If accountancy appeared an unlikely route to journalism, her next step was even more so. She got into public relations, joined Fianna Fáil, worked for her local TD, one Charles Haughey, and helped run son Sean Haughey’s first general election campaign.

Ordinarily, journalists are poached by the PR world. Rarely is the reverse transition achieved. But in 1990, Veronica began working as a freelance reporter, her contacts in politics, business and public life providing a steady stream of exclusives.

By 1992, her byline was a regular in the Sunday Business Post and her name was already well known, thanks in part to the threat of Garda investigations into transcripts she obtained and published of illegal recordings of phone calls by the then Fine Gael leader, John Bruton.

It didn’t hurt her profile either that the same year, Aer Rianta sought injunctions against her and the paper over stories they were running about the semi-state’s international business.

She moved to the Sunday Tribune in 1993 and continued making the front page, most famously when she flew to Ecuador to interview Bishop Eamon Casey who was attempting to hide out there after the revelations that he’d had an affair and fathered a child.

The Sunday Independent came knocking then and Veronica switched titles again, this time ruffling feathers with the revelation that the Attorney General’s office had sat on an extradition request for paedophile priest Brendan Smyth for seven months. The fall-out brought down the coalition government.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny looking at Veronica Guerin’s pen at the Journalists’ Memorial in the Newseum museum of news in Washington

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny looking at Veronica Guerin’s pen at the Journalists’ Memorial in the Newseum museum of news in Washington

Veronica would continue covering the clerical abuse scandals which erupted from that period but another shady subject was increasingly catching her attention — Dublin’s criminal underworld.

She spent just over two years on the crime beat and in that time she was followed, warned by Garda that she was at risk, had a shot fired through the window of her home, was beaten up, was shot in the leg and, at the age of just 37, was murdered.

Her bosses had offered her a transfer to the political beat and encouraged her to accept round the clock Garda protection but she had no desire to retreat to the safety of Leinster House and she declined protection after deciding it was impossible for her to travel around and work freely while trailed by Garda minders.

There has been much argument since over whether more could have been done to save her, whether the newspaper should have insisted she step back or work under protection, and whether she really understood who she was up against or was carried away by the undeniable buzz of making deadlines and headlines.

Her younger brother Jimmy, now an Independent councillor on Fingal County Council, was an outspoken critic of his sister’s employers, but her husband, Graham Turley, has said Veronica’s drive was such that she would not have accepted restrictions.

Graham Turley, who was left to bring up their son, Cathal, then just seven years old, rarely spoke publicly about Veronica but in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of her death, gave a number of interviews, remembering her with warmth, humour and admiration and recalling her death without bitterness.

He married again a few years ago and now also has a step-daughter and daughter. Cathal, who only gave his first interview in recent weeks, is now living in Dubai where he works as a manager in the hotel and bar business.

He too displays a resilience that is a credit to his father’s determination to rebuild a happy home as a fortress against the trauma of childhood loss.

Veronica’s name has remained a constant in public discourse, referred to whenever gangland goes through one of its cyclical resurgences.

Plaque in the Chester Beatty library garden, in Dublin Castle, honouring Guerin

Plaque in the Chester Beatty library garden, in Dublin Castle, honouring Guerin

She was played by Cate Blanchett in the 2003 film, Veronica Guerin; there is a memorial to her in the gardens of Dublin Castle and there is an annual scholarship in her memory at the School of Journalism in DCU.

In recent weeks she was formally remembered in a presentation at the World Editors Forum conference in Colombia and in a statement by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe which has made media freedom a priority.

She received numerous awards posthumously but was also honoured with an International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 1995. The four other recipients that year, from Zambia, Guatemala, Russia and Indonesia, countries generally considered far more perilous for the free press, are still working in journalism but continue to face threats and harassment.

It is impossible to know if Veronica would still be covering gangland had she escaped the assassin’s bullets on June 26 1996. She had six heady years in journalism which may have proved enough for her.

But it’s telling that the Newseum in Washington that holds the tool of her trade had to stop adding all the names of the newly fallen to its memorial a few years ago, such were their numbers, and now adds just a small representative group each year.

It’s often remarked that for all her efforts, nothing changed, that the criminals won out in the end. But while it’s true that the subject that absorbed Veronica never went away, what the Journalists Memorial shows is that the determination of reporters like her to expose those who seek to harm society hasn’t diminished either.

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