John Gilligan ‘hasn’t a single moment of regret’ as he still denies involvement in Veronica Guerin murder
To this day crime boss John Gilligan denies any involvement in the murder of Veronica Guerin – but it’s the only thing guaranteed to make him lose his temper.
The pint-sized criminal I once interviewed for Hot Press magazine in Portlaoise Prison never missed an opportunity to make a wisecrack.
And the only time the smile slipped during our conversation was when I asked him straight out if he ordered the journalist’s cold-blooded murder.
Eyeballing me, he insisted: “No. Her death had nothing to do with me.”
His claim that he never laid a finger on the investigative reporter is hard to swallow.
After all, there was photographic evidence of her bruised face after she door-stepped him at his Co Kildare equestrian centre, Jessbrook, in 1996.
Veronica had pressed assault charges against him and – if convicted – Gilligan would have been looking at a lengthy jail sentence.
“I heard this tapping at the back door and I opened it. When she said who she was, at the backdoor, I said, ‘Get out of here’.
“I pushed her and I closed the door in her face. I was in a housecoat – I had a Penneys robe on. They are all saying it was silk.
“Apart from that I had just a pair of jocks on. As I turned my back – and before I knew it – she was in the utility room, saying, ‘I want to ask you some questions’.
“I just took her by the arm and brought her to the door and I gently pushed her out. I didn’t even bring her to her car.”
Gilligan wanted her out of the picture – the theory goes – because ending up behind bars would have severely disrupted his drugs empire.
Gilligan asked, shaking his head: “Why kill her? What’s that going to gain? What was the gain in that for anybody?
“You’d only get six months for assault – so why take the risk of murdering someone just for that? It’s nonsense.
“I’d understand if she was a witness in a murder trial – and the only witness – and there was a great chance that somebody’s brother was going down or whatever.
“I could see somebody murdering somebody for that reason.”
Gilligan may not have been found guilty of the murder but was handed a record 28-year sentence for smuggling hash, later reduced to 22 years.
Labelled as a “Telly Tubby” in his prison overalls, he tried to shrug off the fact he was destined to spend half his life behind bars.
He said: “I don’t cry over it because I did get away with plenty. I don’t think I should have got 28 years, or 22 years. If I was caught for, say, armed robbery – which, I think, was 14 years – I probably would have been out after 10 or 12 years at the most.
“But I just take it as part of life. I also done crime that I got away with.
“So it’s swings and roundabouts, that type of thing.”
My next contact with Gilligan was when out-of-the-blue he phoned me in 2014.
He rasped: “Hello, Jason it’s your old friend… John Gilligan”.
I don’t mind admitting hearing those words “your old friend” sent a chill down my spine.
It was only hours after a failed assassination attempt on his life when a masked gunman brandishing a shotgun burst into the Halfway House Pub on Dublin’s Navan Road. It was all the more unsettling because Gilligan was laughing and cracking jokes as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
But for a man who’s not afraid for his life, he was taking some pretty serious precautions when it came to meeting him for his only interview since getting out of jail.
Gilligan turned up to the secret location dressed in a black woolly hat and John Lennon type glasses.
Get the Irish Mirror on the go
The smirk had finally been wiped off his face. And he certainly wasn’t in a jovial humour the next – and last time – we spoke after he had been shot five times at his brother’s home in Lucan, Dublin.
He told me how he had only lived to tell the tale because he had “played dead”.
He revealed: “I haven’t done a thing that if I had my life to live over again that I’d be ashamed to do again. I can’t say, for instance, the worst thing I’ve done was go into a bank and I shot 25 people or I was in a bank and a granny got shot or something like that.
“Because that didn’t happen. I haven’t got a moment of regret.”
I found Paddy “Dutchy” Holland – the man accused of pulling the trigger in the Guerin murder – to be the polar opposite when I visited him in Wormwood Scrub Prison less than a year before he died in 2009.
Holland has been depicted as a heartless thug – and I’ve met some in my time – but the man I met in prison was an affable character.
For over two hours, as we sipped cans of Coke and munched on Jaffa Cakes bought in the prison’s tuck shop, Holland talked to me about that day about his life of a strange, atypical loner and career criminal.
Almost inevitably, the picture he painted couldn’t be further removed from his portrayal in the tabloids.
He said: “There are so many untruths out there about me.
“It’s unbelievable. If the papers write something about you – even if it’s not true – it’s down as fact.
“People remember all the rubbish written about you.”
Holland might have been a hardened career criminal for decades, but he wasn’t known to the public prior to the cold-blooded murder of Guerin. It was speculated the then 57-year-old was the pillion passenger on a stolen motorcycle which pulled up beside Guerin’s red Opel Calibra at traffic lights.
He declared: “Listen, I took a lie detector test to prove my innocence.
“Did you know that I was never even put in a line-up by the cops? Why? They even knew that I didn’t do it.
“An eyewitness at the scene saw the gunman through the visor of his helmet.
“He said that the gunman was a man in his 30s. I was a lot older than that at the time.
“I never killed anybody. That’s the God’s honest truth.”
Holland claimed he didn’t know who was behind the murder. He added: “But isn’t it amazing how only one person has been found guilty of participating in Veronica Guerin’s murder?
“And isn’t it amazing that there is nobody serving a prison sentence for actually pulling the trigger?
“Why haven’t the gardai been able to identify and convict the killer? I have always thought there was something amiss about all this. After all these years, it looks like there will never be anybody convicted for the actual killing of Veronica Guerin.
The veteran crook added: “I have many, many regrets. I really regret not being there more for my wife.
“I wish I’d never got involved in any shape or form of criminal activity. It’s ruined my life
“Every time I was locked up in prison, it devastated my wife. For me, crime didn’t pay.”
If nothing else, Patrick Eugene Holland was a very courteous criminal.
I doubt many will say the same about John Gilligan after he shuffles off this mortal