By David Hennessy
THE DUBLIN drug lord believed to have been behind one of Ireland’s most notorious gangland killings John Gilligan walked free from Portlaoise prison this week.
His order to murder campaigning newspaper journalist Veronica Guerin of Dublin’s Sunday Independent led to extensive changes in Irish criminal law including the right to seize the proceeds of criminal enterprise – such as Gilligan’s own forfeited equestrian centre just outside Dublin. The murder received worldwide coverage and was recreated in Hollywood movies.
Brian Meehan was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. Gilligan is believed to have ordered the killing but in 2001 was acquitted of the murder. He left Ireland the day before the journalist was slain in her car in the Naas Dual Carriageway, on June 26 1996.
The 61-year-old was jailed in 2001 for 28 years for possession of commercial quantities of cannabis resin. The sentence was reduced by 8 years in 2003 on appeal. He had already served several years on remand in an English jail awaiting extradition to Ireland. He has spent 13 years and six months behind bars. Gilligan would have been due for release two years ago with remission for good behaviour. But in 2006 he was handed another two-year sentence for assaulting a prison officer.
In 1994, Guerin started writing about Dublin’s criminal underworld. She received several death threats. When she confronted Gilligan about his lavish lifestyle, Gilligan attacked her and later threatened to kidnap and rape her son. Veronica’s murder was the first assassination of a reporter in Ireland, sparking shock, anger and a criminal investigation that was one of the largest in the history of the state and led to over 150 arrests.
In the aftermath of Veronica’s murder, the Irish state set up the Criminal Assets Bureau which was given power to seize the assets of suspected criminals. Gilligan’s unexplained wealth included a state of the art Jessbrook equestrian centre which CAB is currently looking for a buyer for. Once valued at €5 million, CAB is now asking for just €500,000. Gilligan’s wife fought the bureau in the courts for 16 years in an attempt to hold on to the property but in November last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of CAB.
Gilligan has made it clear he will not be doing any interviews. In a statement, his lawyer said: “Mr Gilligan wishes it to be expressly known that even if each paper, magazine and/or television station offered him €1m, he will not give an interview.”
Gilligan was portrayed with chilling effect by the character actor, Gerard McSorley in the 2003 film that starred Cate Blanchett as Guerin.