The Real Veronica Guerin
The life, career, controversies and murder of Veronica Guerin.
On 26 June 1996, the then Minister for Justice Nora Owen was in New York attending an international conference on trans-national crime and drug trafficking. She had had an early morning breakfast with people involved in the criminal justice system in the United States and returned to Fitzpatrick's Hotel. She was to go on to the United Nations, but before she left she was called aside by her private secretary and told that Veronica Guerin had been shot.
Nora Owen recalls: “We weren't absolutely clear if she was dead at that stage. It was later we found out she had died. To say the least, it was devastating. I'd known Veronica for a number of years because she was a staff person on the New Ireland Forum back in 1984 and I was a member of the Fine Gael team. She was wonderfully vivacious, active, full of confidence and she would have been a very young woman. She was around the heavy weights in politics, Garret FitzGerald and Charlie Haughey, John Hume and Seamus Mallon . But she had a great way about her. She had a very winning personality and wasn't a bit put off by the greatness of some of the people she was meeting”.
After delivering an emotional address at the UN meeting, Nora Owen took the first available flight home.
“I went first up to the funeral home in Donnycarney to see Veronica laid out and I found that extremely moving and I just couldn't cope with that at all. Her husband Graham was there and he was extraordinarily generous and strong in the face of such tragedy and I got a distinct sense that he was suffering for me as well because he knew that as Minister I was going to get terrible blame for it, which I did.
“Many articles were written at the time—articles that are difficult to accept. I remember one particular article in The Sunday Business Post, in which one journalist (Emily O'Reilly) pretty well said Veronica Guerin would have been alive today if Nora Owen wasn't Minister for Justice. I remember thinking that was really a very, very cruel thing to say about me personally, but it was also an extremely cruel thing to say for Graham and Cathal, because the implication was that there was a way in which I or some other politician could have stopped this awful death. I just felt it was a deeply cruel and unkind thing to say and it hurt me deeply and really did affect me.
“I've met Graham a number of times and he has always been incredibly generous and kind to me in the sense that I think he sensed that I was suffering (although in a different way) just as much as he was, because I was the Minister – in charge of Justice in the country and here was one of the most unjust acts that could happen to anyone—a woman going about her job being killed.
“I went to Veronica's funeral at the airport. I remember it was a cold day and so bleak. I felt a great deal of hostility . I knew people there were actually turning their backs as I came near them. I do recall one man shouting at me and asking me how dare I be there and why was I there and being very grateful to a couple of people, one journalist and Garret FitzGerald—who quickly stood between me and the person who was heckling me because it was hurtful to me. It's something that shouldn't happen at a person's funeral because I was very close to Graham at that point and he would have heard this man saying it and he wouldn't have liked it either.
“Veronica's family specifically went out of their way to speak to me. I think they sensed somehow that there was a feeling that people were saying that I could have stopped it (the murder). It was very helpful when the family went out of their way to show that they didn't blame me. I will never forget Graham's kindness and bravery and the way he helped all of us who were grieving, although his grief was far greater than ours.”
When Veronica Guerin was first shot in January 1995, Nora Owen had visited her in the Mater Hospital late one night. “I just wanted to see her (after she was shot) because I wanted to see she was alright… I think she was very touched by that and grateful and I just slipped away again.
“I did socialise with Veronica a little after then. They (Graham and Veronica) very kindly invited me down to the house just as a friend more than as a minister. It was a party to thank people who had helped her and had being there for her. There was a little celebration when she was well again. We had a really jolly evening. There were a number of her journalistic colleagues at the house. She was incredibly brave about the fact that someone had violated her home by coming in and shooting her there …but she had such a sense of joie de vivre that it was hard not to feel that she was almost invincible.”
Minutes after the murder became known, a senior member of the former Coalition Government walked into the Dail and was met by a cabinet colleague. “Have you heard?” asked the colleague. “All hell is going to break loose.” It did.
It was literally the case that the nation was traumatized by the murder. Thousands of people flocked to her funeral and thousands more brought flowers to the gates of Leinster House in an extraordinary emotional tribute to her and in an equally extraordinary and evocative commentary on the perceived helplessness of the political and criminal justice system.
The following day newspaper editorials demanded that the government take immediate action against “organized crime”, amid recriminations over the perceived chaos in the criminal justice system. The airways were jammed with calls from the public who feared the criminals were beyond the grasp of the law. Her murder was all the more traumatic, coming so soon after the murder in Adare of Garda Jerry McCabe by the IRA.
The Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern said it was “a dreadful indictment of the crime that has been allowed to grow rampant in our society over many years.” Drawing parallels between Ireland and Colombia, former Progressive Democrat TD Michael McDowell described the crime problem as an emergency. “Killing by organised untouchables godfathers must end. If the ordinary laws cannot accomplish that much, the duty of this State is to take extraordinary steps to end it”
Veronica Guerin had come to public attention through a remarkable series of major journalistic coups, starting in The Sunday Business Post, from 1992 to 1993, followed through in The Sunday Tribune (in 1993) and later in The Sunday Independent (from 1994 to her death in 1996). She broke most of the major stories of the time in the course of a brief four-year journalistic career from 1992 to 1996.
One of her early major scoops was a story about the mysterious disappearance of £25m from the Goodman Group, a story involving an intricate tale stretching from Offaly to Cyprus. An outstanding exposé of malpractice in Aer Lingus Holidays.
She moved to The Sunday Tribune in early 1993 and there, reeled off a succession of major stories. There was the first interview with Jimmy Livingstone, husband of Grace Livingstone who was murdered at her home in Malahide in 1992. There were fresh revelations about the Beit art robbery and of the use of funds in Tara Mines for political purposes. Then there were the remarkable series of interviews with Bishop Eamonn Casey.
Veronica alone discovered where Bishop Casey was based—outside Quito in Equador. Then, on her own initiative, she travelled there. She delivered a letter to a colleague of Bishop Casey in a suburb of Quito, only to discover that the Bishop was staying at the house at the time. Bishop Casey later met her at a hotel in downtown Quito and there, following hours of persuasion, agreed to give her his first interview after fleeing Ireland following the revelations of his relationship with Annie Murphy and his fathering of a child by her.
The series of interviews that took place subsequently were disrupted in part by misgivings by Bishop Casey about the wisdom of going public. Veronica however managed to prevail on him to “keep his nerve”, as she persistently urged. Ultimately, the interviews were published and caused a huge surge in the sales of The Sunday Tribune.
Bishop Casey told the then editor of The Sunday Tribune that he did the interviews solely because of Veronica's persuasiveness. On being contacted by Magill Bishop Casey (who is 71 on Thursday, April 23), repeated his fondness and respect for Veronica Guerin but was unwilling to be drawn into a media interview on any topic at this time.
Veronica's most spectacular scoop was the revelation of the delay in the Attorney General's office in 1994, in handling the extradition application for Fr Brendan Smyth, accused of child sex abuse. That revelation, in The Sunday Independent, ultimately caused the break-up of the Fianna Fail-Labour government and the downfall of Albert Reynolds.
No other journalist had such a record of “scoops” in that time.
Commenting on Veronica Guerin as a journalist, the former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen said: “Veronica's stories were taken seriously. Generally, out of ten I would have rated her accuracy at above six. She would certainly have had some information. She may not have all the detail right but there would have been enough there for a story although it wouldn't have been complete.
“I genuinely think she never set out to write a totally inaccurate story—that she never set out to set someone up. A lot of the stuff she wrote about was sensational—there's no two ways about it and I have to say The Sunday Independent certainly sensationalised it.
“By and large I think she did try and check out the accuracy of her stories. If some of them were incomplete it may have been because some of the people she was getting her information from weren't themselves trustworthy. That might have been the problem.
“Veronica did shake up the system with regard to the Gardai and how they might answer questions (from the press) and with regard to the Department of Justice and how they might answer questions.
“I've no doubt that when Veronica's stories appeared in the papers, that the gardai read them and certainly we, in the Department of Justice, read them.
“I think Veronica was very influential. I think she did change people's views about how we deal with our criminal justice system. She changed people's views by stirring us up out of a sense that Ireland—out on the edge of Europe—was somehow immune from some of the more serious criminal elements that had already taken hold in our European partner countries”.
However that record of outstanding journalistic success was marred somewhat by a series of excesses and dissimulations that marked much of her career.
he Guerin family gathered at her grave a year after her murder, to view the elaborate gravestone erected by Veronica's devoted husband, Graham Turley. As the family stood admiringly, Veronica's mother Bernie exclaimed: “Graham, you have got the year wrong. Veronica was born in 1958 (not in 1959 as the gravestone inscription read)”. Graham Turley protested that the correct year was 1959. Veronica's sisters, Marie Therèse and Claire, signaled to Bernie to drop the issue. Both knew that Veronica had told Graham many years ago that she was a year younger than she really was. But then wasn't the time to start putting the record straight.
According to Jimmy Guerin, Veronica's younger brother, the “reduction” in her age dates back to 1984 when Veronica turned 26 and was no longer eligible to vote at the Ógra Fianna Fail AGM in Dublin North-Central. She “assumed the birth year of 1959 to enable her vote”, he said.
Veronica was born on July 5 1958, the second youngest of five children, three girls and two boys. The family home was on Brookwood Avenue, in Dublin's Artane. Her father, Christopher Guerin, was an accountant with an office in Gardiner Place. As a child Veronica was strong-willed. From an early age she was passionate about football (and famously about Manchester United). During her teenage years as a pupil in the Holy Faith Convent in Killester, she excelled in girls football and went on to represent Ireland internationally. She was also a very talented basketball player with the local team, The Killester Kittens, and played several times for the Irish national team.
Later, a colleague who worked with her in journalism remarked that she brought the same passion and competitive drive she exhibited in sport to the pursuit of stories. “She had the same hunger to win—it was like another sport to her.”
The Guerin household was Fianna Fáil. Christopher Guerin, Veronica's father (who died in the early 1980's) was a staunch supporter of the party and of Charlie Haughey in particular. When he discovered during the Presidential election of 1966 that some of his children had taken money from Fine Gael to distribute leaflets for that party's presidential candidate Tom O'Higgins, he made them return the money and chided them for “working for the Blueshirts.”
Veronica and Jimmy became the most politically active members of the family and canvassed regularly for Charlie Haughey and Fianna Fáil in Dublin North-Central. They both joined Ógra Fianna Fáil.
“At a time when Ógra was little more than a drinking club Veronica took it very seriously, always arguing about issues, debating points and sorting out problems. You could see she was very ambitious”, said one former Ógra member.
Bubbly and effusive, Veronica acquired a reputation for getting things done. “She was noisy, fearless, game for anything. When electioneering she would go into the toughest areas and take on alsatian dogs if necessary”, recalled a prominent Fianna Fáil source.
Charles Haughey was one of her heroes. An impeccable source described how Veronica, told him that she had voted 26 times for Charles Haughey in the Dublin North Central constituency during the February 1982 general election. “Once for herself, and 25 times for every year the Boss was in the Dáil. It was the time the heaves were beginning against Charlie and Veronica wanted to help him out”, he said. Magill has confirmed this story with a second source.
The second source explained that in 1982, the Fianna Fáil canvass in Dublin North-Central was so well organised, that the location of unused voting cards was well known and fully exploited by some party members. Nationally, the February 1982 election result may have been bad news for Charlie Haughey, leaving Fianna Fáil short of an overall majority, but it must have been some consolation for him to achieve the highest personal vote at constituency level in the country.
In the same year, 1982, Mr Haughey appointed Veronica to the board of NIHE in Dublin (renamed Dublin City University since 1989). She was to remain a member of the University's governing body for 10 years, although she appeared to have no obvious qualifications for the position.
In 1984, Veronica's profile in the party was further boosted when Mr Haughey appointed her secretary to the Fianna Fail group in the New Ireland Forum. By this stage the Haughey and Guerin families were very close. When Veronica married Graham Turley a year later, Charlie Haughey was a guest at the wedding along with a number of other well known politicians including Ray McSharry and the SDLP's Seamus Mallon. The newly weds spent part of their honeymoon on Inishvickillaun, Mr Haughey's island off the Kerry coast.
But the Guerin/Haughey friendship was jolted two years later. A source close to Mr Haughey described it as a distancing rather than a rift. “Charlie instinctively knew not to trust her,” he said.
According to reliable sources, there were a number of reasons for the cooling in relations. Confidential details about Mr Haughey were published in the Phoenix magazine, which the sources say Mr Haughey suspected only Veronica could have leaked. Paddy Prendiville, a close friend of Veronica, was the editor of the Phoenix. Another reliable source said Veronica had been caught going through Mr Haughey's papers in his private office.
It was also around this time, according to the same source, that Veronica had approached at least two senior figures in Fianna Fail, including Mr Haughey, claiming that her son Cathal had a rare disease and that she needed money to pay for treatment in the Mayo Clinic in the United States. Magill has established from sources close to the Guerin family that Cathal never suffered from any such condition.
Once he felt betrayed by someone, there was no going back for Mr Haughey. While his sons remained in contact with Veronica and Graham and her brother Jimmy (who was election agent for Sean Haughey in the 1997 general election), all contact between Veronica and Mr Haughey ended.
fter doing the Leaving Certificate in 1976, Veronica worked for a year in a credit union in Meath Street. She then worked in her father's accountancy firm for nearly two years and began accountancy exams but never qualified. At one stage Veronica told friends that she passed her final exams in accountancy and was the youngest person to qualify in the country. Her friends in Ógra Fianna Fáil clubbed together to buy her a gold watch to celebrate the achievement. Although she was never an accountant, she did have a certificate in marketing.
Veronica went through a variety of careers and was reticent about some of them. When interviewed for Image Magazine in 1994 the interviewer wrote: “Educated by the Holy Faith nuns in Killester, she is evasive about what came next. With a wave of her hand, she mentions as previous jobs, accountancy, marketing and PR.”
After Veronica left her father's accountancy firm, she was briefly involved in a catering company with one of her sisters and a friend. The business catered for 21st birthday parties and other small functions, but survived only a few weeks. It ended with Veronica and her sister leaving a saucepan of eggs boil dry and an odour in the house for weeks.
Veronica and Graham also opened a vegetable shop called Evergreen on the Malahide main street. It lasted approximately three months. Next, she set up her own PR company. It closed after a year, following a complicated transaction involving Aer Rianta. It was “not a good time for Veronica” according to a close source.
Shortly afterwards, Veronica began working in a travel company in Abbey Street and was soon telling friends about her adventures jetting across the world on exotic trips.
“She was going through all these jobs and next I knew it, she started appearing in The Sunday Business Post writing about Aer Lingus Holidays,” said a prominent Fianna Fáil source.
Aileen O'Toole, Deputy Editor of The Sunday Business Post, recalled in an article shortly after Veronica's death, how Veronica had walked into the office of the newspaper in the autumn of 1990 and said she wanted to be a journalist.
“Her curriculum vitae was impressive – she had qualified as an accountant (she hadn't) , worked as a public relations consultant, as a political adviser and as a management consultant,” O'Toole wrote.
Around the same time, Veronica approached RTE's current affairs with a story about Aer Lingus Holidays. She was commissioned along with a producer and camera crew to do a report on the subject for Today Tonight. According to sources at the station, Veronica's story was well-researched and stood up. She was regarded as a hard worker if somewhat obsessive and impulsive.
Relations cooled when Veronica was told that her voice was unsuitable for broadcasting and that while she would be credited with researching the report, she would not be allowed to present it.
After her protests failed to change this decision, Veronica walked off the job and attempted unsuccessfully to claim copyright on the story. An unpleasant legal wrangle ensued but the report was finally broadcast in October 1991 using the voice of another reporter.
Also at this time Veronica approached Carr Communications. She had come to know Tom Savage who was working in the Department of Taoiseach as an advisor to Albert Reynolds. She told him she needed to learn writing skills, that she was a brilliant researcher with great access to great sources but that she wasn't good at telling the story. Tom Savage referred her to his wife Terry Prone, who runs a media skills course in the company's Dundrum offices.
“She had a huge hunger to be part of the story, rather than simply the uninvolved storyteller. Tape after tape would reveal her opinions. No opinions, we told her. Just questions. There should be nothing on these tapes in your voice that doesn't have a question mark at the end of it', Prone said in an interview with Magill.
On one occasion during her training, Veronica sought advice. She told Prone she had scooped “the story of a lifetime” and needed advice on where to sell it.
She had acquired possession of a tape recording of phone calls from John Bruton to Maurice Manning, Michael Noonan and another person all arising out of Sean Doherty's earlier confession implicating Charlie Haughey in the tapping of journalists' phones ten years previously.
“I told her I could not advise her on selling what I saw as stolen goods. I was aware that this particular tape had been on the market for several weeks and that other journalists had turned it down. She was shattered. Not, interestingly enough, by the presumption that she had paid for it—that went without saying. What bothered her was that other journalists had turned it down. Why would they? It was the most marvelous story. Look at what the tape revealed—I told her, ‘This is sleezeball stuff rather than scoop, Veronica. You can do better than this,” said Prone.
The article was published by The Sunday Business Post amid controversy. She never returned to the Carr Communications course.
A few months later a major two-page article appeared under Veronica's byline, again in The Sunday Business Post, about the toppling of Charlie Haughey from office. The article outlined months of alleged intrigue involving Carr Communications in a plot to bring down Mr Haughey.
The story was largely fictitious. Dates, locations and times of alleged meetings between people referred to by Veronica were shown to be false. Eleven people mentioned in the story sued and the newspaper published an apology to all of them.
Veronica left The Sunday Business Post under somewhat of a cloud and was engaged by The Sunday Tribune, where, as recounted above, she did a series of outstanding stories. After the publication of the Bishop Casey interview she was induced to join The Sunday Independent.
“Veronica joined the Indo when the paper was still reeling from the Bishop Casey debàcle (the paper had carried an interview with Bishop Casey who later denied he was interviewed by the newspaper). “She took off like a roller coaster,” said a journalist who knew her well.
“There is a market for (a kind) of crime reporting and she filled it for the Sunday Indo. They liked what she had to offer and the fact that it was a woman doing that kind of work gave it a sexy dimension—no doubt about it,” he said.
It was also a happy time for Veronica. Her older brother Martin Guerin said he never knew Veronica to be happier than when she worked for the Sunday Independent. “She was more relaxed and at ease than she had ever being before. She loved the Independent and enjoyed working with Willie Kealy. She enjoyed their banter.”
However, the credibility of some of Veronica's crime reports, profiling mysterious, unnamed underworld figures was viewed with scepticism by some people who worked closely with her.
“It was easy to write about the underworld in the way she did. No names, no verifiable facts, no come-back. As time went on however, she was coming under pressure to come up with names,” said a legal source. The trigger was an exposé of a major criminal by The Sunday World a month before she died, that prompted the competitive Veronica to go further and name names.
One of Veronica's first criminal sources was a 50-year-old Fianna Fáil activist-turned-criminal from Ballsbridge, called the Badger. The Badger remained a close contact until Veronica named him in the Sunday Tribune in connection with a major fraud. He sued.
Veronica's chief criminal source was John Traynor, a southside Dubliner with a lengthy criminal record.
A leading Irish criminal based in Amsterdam told Magill that Traynor had targeted Veronica as a conduit to get his line out. “She suited him. He knew he could peddle lies about other people and who was going to refute it? It was a joke,” he said.
A major Dublin criminal also said Traynor was telling Veronica lies, but he said she would always try to check the veracity of the information. “She'd leave a message, but I would just ignore it. So, it wasn't her fault, she tried,” he said.
A former detective who knew Traynor for the past 20 years believed that Veronica was too trusting. “I had a cup of coffee with her the day before she was killed. She seemed quiet. I used to warn her about him because I knew he would turn on her. In a way he was using her. It made him feel important to have a female journalist taking an interest in him but Traynor was just a mouth, the criminals knew it and we knew it,” he said.