The shooting of journalist Veronica Guerin caused a seismic shift in the way people deal with criminals in Ireland.
Previously, the response of successive governments to the growing problem of drug crime has been apathetic at best.
The country’s first narco-barons, like Larry Dunne, could drive around in limos and pay houses in cash – even though they had no visible legal means of support.
It was something that John Gilligan picked up very quickly.
Deluding himself that his drug millions had given him class, he imaginatively made himself a show jumping godfather by building a lavish € 1.5 million equestrian center in Jessbrook, even though he was a street eater who started school at 14 had left.
Five-Foot-Nothing Gilligan wasn’t used to being challenged, and so he got furious when crime reporter Veronica Guerin started asking awkward questions about the origin of his money.
The mother of one child bravely persisted, even after a wild and violent attack by Gilligan on his doorstep and threats from him to kidnap and rape her young son.
Not even being shot in the leg by one of Gilligan’s thugs stopped her from printing more stories about him.
The angry gangster finally sent two killers on a motorcycle to track them down on the Naas expressway and shoot them in cold blood at a traffic light in June 1996.
The shock and outrage over the brutal murder were felt across the island.
At first, Gilligan fled to London and was confident he’d got away with it.
In a newspaper interview given there just six weeks after the murder, he brazenly bragged about driving £ 15 million in drug profits out of Ireland.
More concerned about how he appeared in the papers than Veronica’s grieving widow and son, he asked reporter John Mooney if he was “handsome.”
He said, “Everyone said I look cool. Like a guy from the mafia – a real gangster. ”
But Gilligan was on the verge of receiving a massive shock.
He had posed a challenge to the state – and the state responded.
The Criminal Assets Bureau was set up with the tax legislation – at that time the first unit of its kind in Europe.
Less than four months after ordering the Veronica murder, CAB served Gilligan with an initial tax charge of £ 1.5 million.
The following October 6th, he was arrested at Heathrow Airport while trying to board a flight to Amsterdam, Holland for £ 300,000.
The money was confiscated from him and he was delivered home a year later to be charged with the murder of Veronica.
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John Gilligan was tried and acquitted in 2001 for guerrin’s murder.
Paul ‘Hippo’ Ward was convicted and sentenced to life as an accomplice for disposing of the murder weapon – however that conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Brian ‘Tosser’ Meehan was convicted of her murder and remains in prison to this day.
The following year, Gilligan got his fair desserts with a 28-year prison sentence for drug trafficking – still the longest ever handed down in Ireland. In the appeal process, however, it was shortened to 20 years.
Everything he built up with his drug money was eventually confiscated from him by CAB.
The criminal justice landscape had changed forever.
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From that moment on, Gilligan’s gang has always been accused by their staff of forcing the state to target what is most important to criminals – their precious wealth.
What downed Gilligan was his extreme arrogance and the fact that he thought he was inviolable.
It would be utterly ironic if the gun discovered in his garden turned out to be the one that killed Veronica – and that ensures that he will die in prison.
The little crook John Gilligan is currently being arrested by the Spanish police in Alicante
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