Tears and applause at journalist's funeral

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The Independent Online
With a simple and moving dignity, Graham Turley, husband of the murdered Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin, yesterday reduced to tears a packed congregation of family, Government leaders, ambassadors and journalists. "I have lost my wife, but I have also lost a friend. Veronica was also my best pal," he said.

Irish President Mary Robinson and Prime Minister John Bruton led a crowd of more than a thousand mourners at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church beside Dublin Airport, where Ms Guerin attended mass every Sunday. Mr Turley told them how he had never interfered with his wife's driven commitment to journalism that ended last week with her being shot dead following her investigations into Dublin drugs dealers.

"The only thing was to be first. First in journalism. First in sport. First in family," he said. After the singing of a well-chosen hymn, "Be not afraid", he recalled the high points in their life together: their wedding day, "the greatest day of my life," and the birth of their son Cathal. "When we were married we promised ourselves we would have fun, and we did."

He touched, in a comic moment, on her life-long support for Manchester United and urged the congregation: "Laugh - you might as well, because Veronica would have done."

Also among the congregation were former Irish premier Dr Garret Fitzgerald, the Archbishop of Dublin and Opposition leaders, the Sinn Fein general secretary Lucilita Breathnach, the Lord Mayor of Dublin Sean Loftus, and the former Mayor of New York David Dinkins, as well as newspaper and television chiefs. The visiting Czech President Vaclav Havel sent a wreath and visited her newspaper, the Sunday Independent, to sign the book of condolences.

Mr Turley told how on Thursday he went to the Irish parliament to see the hundreds of floral tributes left by ordinary Dubliners, and read out some of the most poignant. When he concluded, recalling her characteristic response to any request, "It's no problem - it's part of the job," most were openly weeping. As he sat down the entire church rose in rousing and prolonged applause.

Moving memories were evoked when the traditional funeral gifts highlighting her life were offered up. Her six-year-old son brought forward a framed photo of the Veronica with her hero Eric Cantona during "a wonderful day at Old Trafford". His cousins brought a football and gloves.

Also laid on the altar were her International Press Federation Award, received after she was shot and wounded last year, a wedding album, and an FA Cup Semi-Final programme. Cathal was then lifted by his father up to kiss his mother's coffin.

Father Declan Doyle told mourners Veronica had been at the church last Sunday for a service dealing with violence against women. He said: "Veronica's pursuit of truth was rigorous. She was feared for it. But, as the number here today testify, she was, more importantly, admired and even loved for it."

Later, in the small tree-lined cemetery, the ginger-haired child, dressed in a white shirt and shorts, was alternately smiling, then puzzled and uncomprehending as his mother's coffin was lowered into the grave surrounded by countless colourful wreaths.

Veronica Guerin dug dangerously deep to bring into the open the activities of a ruthless underworld elite seemingly immune to legal sanction. The chief suspect in ordering her murder is thought to have escaped to Spain before her shooting by two hired gunmen on a motorbike last Wednesday.

On Friday night Irish Government leaders responded to an outpouring of public outrage at her assassination, announcing a constitutional referendum to amend the country's chaotic bail laws that have allowed drug dealers to continue their trade during delays before trials.

The Irish Government's dismal record in combating a hard-drugs and crime crisis came under fierce attack yesterday. In a front page editorial in the Irish Times said: "They have fooled nobody, rushing from one crime problem to another with platitudes about Garda resources and the Government's "firm intentions" to come to grips with drugs today, attacks on the elderly tomorrow, armed robbery the day after - the list goes on. What we are dealing with is an ingrained paralysis that crosses party lines."