Guerin, Veronica (1958–96), journalist, was born 5 July 1958 (not, as often given, 1959) in Dublin, one of five children of Christopher Guerin, accountant, and his wife, Bernadette. She was educated by the Holy Faith nuns at Killester and in 1988 earned a diploma in marketing management from the Dublin Institute of Technology. She was keen on sport, playing basketball (she was a founder member of the Killester Kittens club), and soccer; she played camogie for Dublin. Later she was a voluntary worker in local sports and youth clubs, ran discos for the Artane Summer Project in Dublin, and accompanied children's outings to Butlin's holiday camp. She was known to her friends as ‘Ronnie’.
After passing the leaving certificate (1976), Guerin spent a year working for the Irish League of Credit Unions and was then employed in her father's accountancy practice until it was sold after his sudden death in 1981. Her family were strong supporters of Fianna Fáil; she joined Ógra Fianna Fáil in 1978 and became chair of the Dublin North Central branch in 1979. She was a strong admirer and forceful supporter of Charles Haughey (1925–2006), TD for Dublin North Central constituency, and acquired her first journalistic experience on election newsletters. She was appointed to the governing body of the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin, by the 1982 Haughey government, and served on it until 1987. She was a researcher and public relations advisor for Fianna Fáil in 1983–4, and was secretary to the Fianna Fáil group in the 1984 New Ireland Forum. She married (21 September 1985) Graham Turley , a construction engineer and a colleague in Ógra Fianna Fáil; at her funeral he said that she had been not only his wife but his ‘best pal’. They had one son, Cathal (b. 1990).
When the New Ireland Forum ended, Guerin decided that, as she had no interest in standing for elected office, she would set up her own business rather than continuing as a Fianna Fáil employee. In 1984 she founded Guerin Public Relations Ltd; this had little success and has been described as functioning more as a catering firm than a PR company. It was dissolved in 1992 and was followed by a short-lived vegetable shop. She then worked as a PR consultant in the travel sector. This led to her entry into professional journalism when she began contributing to the satirical gossip magazine Phoenix (1990) and writing business stories as a freelance for the Sunday Business Post (1992). Her business journalism included coverage of the problems of Goodman International and the Aer Lingus Holidays company. In July 1993 Guerin and the editor of the Sunday Business Post were fined £400 and £600 respectively in Dublin district court for publishing an intercepted phone conversation between two Fine Gael politicians.
In 1993 she joined the Sunday Tribune. Her scoops for the paper included an exclusive interview in November of that year with Bishop Eamon Casey in Ecuador; Casey, formerly the bishop of Galway, had left Ireland after the revelation that he had fathered a child. Her success has been attributed to the network of contacts she had built up in her previous career and to her unremitting work ethic. She favoured a direct approach to her interview subjects, believing that persistent requests would eventually persuade them to talk. Guerin characteristically worked on several stories simultaneously, redrafting them over time as she acquired information or received editorial direction: ‘I am a news hound. There are great opportunities out there for hungry news hounds’ (quoted in Sunday Business Post, 10 Sept. 2000). It has been suggested that one of her driving forces was a need to prove herself as a journalist because she had come into the profession late and worked outside standard newsroom structures. She certainly provoked the hostility of some established journalists, who felt themselves eclipsed by her rising star, and this contributed to the accusation, made in some quarters before and after her death, that she was a reckless and self-promoting sensationalist.
In January 1994 Guerin moved to the Sunday Independent and rapidly became established as one of its distinctive group of celebrity journalists. Subsequent disputes over Guerin's conduct were influenced by differences of opinion about the validity of this style of journalism. Guerin saw herself as a wide-ranging investigative reporter and continued to write on such matters as IRA activity, Irish business, and scandals involving catholic clerics. She responded robustly to criticisms of her pursuit of a catholic bishop over his handling of a sexual abuse case: ‘I'm not anti-church but I am a hungry reporter and if there's a good story there I'll go and get it. Hypocrisy can only survive if it's in control’ (Irish Times, 27 June 2004). She came increasingly to be identified with crime reporting.
Guerin's journalism fed into a growing public fascination with Dublin's organised crime, stoked by the high-profile activities of Martin Cahill (qv) and the growth of a serious drugs problem in Dublin from the early 1980s. In the public imagination Cahill was the kingpin of Dublin crime; in fact, he was only one of several rival gang leaders. Unlike other journalists, Guerin was prepared to approach criminals directly and pester them for interviews. A Garda associate described her as a crusader, who thought she could change Irish society and believed that the closer she got to criminals the more difficult it would be for them to attack her. Her relations with one informant, John Traynor, involving attempts by him to manipulate her with misinformation, are believed particularly to have endangered her life; at the time she died Traynor was seeking an injunction to keep her from publishing a story accusing him of drug dealing.
Guerin was horrified at the extent of drug dealing in inner-city Dublin and the untouchability of the main drug gangs. She told acquaintances that widespread middle-class indifference to the increasing number of gangland shootings (on the grounds that their victims were mostly criminals) would prove lethally short-sighted. She was deeply critical of the attitude that treated drug dealers as legitimate businessmen: ‘It makes me sick that these bastards make millions through the deaths of others and they don't give a shit what they are doing to young kids. They are destroying others’ lives and they are practically untouchable’ (quoted in the Irish Independent, 27 June 2004). She also publicly criticised Irish libel laws as hampering the ability of journalists to expose the full extent of the crime problem. Guerin tried to evade these restrictions by publishing increasingly detailed accounts of Dublin crime bosses under a range of pen names; her reporting persuaded the public that the crime problem went far beyond Cahill and that the authorities had failed to address a situation in which such figures could operate with impunity.
On 7 October 1994 shots were fired into Guerin's house. On 30 January 1995 she was shot in the leg at her home, possibly in response to a story in which she had revealed Martin Cahill's simultaneous cohabitation with his wife and sister-in-law; from her hospital bed she issued a widely publicised declaration that she would not be intimidated. She was provided with a Garda escort, but secured its withdrawal on the grounds that it precluded her from interviewing criminals. She subsequently received the International Press Freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York.
On 14 September 1995 Guerin visited the home of John Gilligan, an ex-convict with a reputation for violence, whom she had repeatedly attempted to interview. She asked Gilligan to explain the source of his income, which was later revealed to derive from a large-scale network for smuggling and distributing marijuana. She was beaten up and threats were made against her son. She later brought assault charges against Gilligan.
On 26 June 1996 Guerin attended the district court in Naas, Co. Kildare, to face a speeding charge, receiving a fine and a suspended sentence. The date of her court appearance was known, and she was followed; shortly after driving away from the courthouse, as her car stopped at traffic lights on the Naas Road about 1.05 p.m., Guerin was shot six times by a hit man riding pillion on a motorcycle; she died instantly.
Guerin's murderers apparently expected that her death would cause a brief furore but soon be forgotten. Instead it provoked widespread public outrage arising from a sense that crime had got out of control. The killing was denounced in the dáil and by the proprietor of Independent Newspapers, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, as ‘an attack on democracy’. It led to the passage of legislation that restricted bail and the right to silence for those charged with crimes, the establishment of a witness protection programme, and the creation of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which was empowered to seize the property of suspected criminals, who could retrieve it only if they could prove that it did not represent the proceeds of crime. The bureau made large-scale seizures of assets and its activities substantially restricted the ability of major criminals to operate with impunity. A far-reaching investigation uncovered the operations of a criminal network, some members of which turned state's evidence; several were convicted of drug offences, though serious problems with the reliability of accomplice evidence meant that charges related to the murder were more difficult to establish. No one was convicted.
Guerin was commemorated internationally for her fearless pursuit of the truth as an investigative journalist and for her refusal to be intimidated. She became the subject of several American television documentaries. She inspired two films. In Though the sky falls (directed by Mike Hodges, 1999) a character based on Guerin was played by Joan Allen. In Veronica Guerin (directed by Joel Schumacher, 2003) the title role was played by Cate Blanchett.