Criminal underworld has radically changed in Gilligan’s years behind bars
John Gilligan became part of the criminal elite when he moved into the world of drugs
John Gilligan: Acquitted of the murder of Veronica Guerin. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
When John Gilligan takes his first steps of freedom this morning, he will be re-entering a society where the criminal underworld is very different to the one he once dominated.
It is a new world of ultra gun violence where his profile and reputation will not protect him as it once did. The Dubliner has been in prison for just over 17 years, with many newer gangs having committed between 10 and 15 gun murders apiece in the past decade alone; a body count unheard of in Gilligan’s heyday.
Gilligan is now 61 years old and how he would cope if he tried to carve out a niche for himself at the top end of organised drug trafficking is unknown.
His wife Geraldine still lives in a house beside the Jessbrook lands and showjumping arena near Johnstownbridge on the border between Kildare and Meath. They were trying to launch it as an international competitive facility at the time he was jailed pending trial for the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin and drug dealing.
He was cleared of the Sunday Independent journalist’s murder but was jailed for 28 years for drug dealing; the longest ever sentence handed down by an Irish court for a drugs offence.
That sentence was subsequently reduced on appeal to 20 years.
The man who is believed to have fired the shots that killed Veronica Guerin, Patrick Eugene Holland, died in prison in the UK in 2009 after being jailed there for kidnapping. Paul “Hippo” Ward (49) was one of two men convicted of the murder but that was overturned on appeal. He became involved in a serious riot in jail pending that appeal and was jailed for 12 years for it, being released in 2005. He still lives in Dublin.
The only other man convicted of the murder was Brian Meehan, who is serving life for the crime. Gilligan’s close friend and adviser John Traynor now lives in the UK while another gang member Peter “Fatso” Mitchell also appears to be living a quieter life in the Netherlands.
Gilligan has spent his years in prison on the E1 landing of Portlaoise Prison where gangland criminals are housed. He has gotten to know a large number of serious criminals who passed through the landing during his time there, and having met his old gang mates in jail in the early 1990s it is not inconceivable that on release he will fall back on friendships made when in jail.
“He will have made a few enemies in jail as well because he always tried to be a big personality and some of the young ones would eat him without salt on the outside,” was one prison source’s blunt appraisal of Gilligan’s situation now.
The Garda force, at least some of whom feared Gilligan in the 1990s, is also much better at investigating and prosecuting gangland figures and has more experience in protecting its members in the face of threats from gang leaders.