John Gilligan walks free after lengthy jail term

Convicted drug dealer freed from maximum security Portlaoise Prison at 9.35am

The convicted drug dealer John Gilligan has been released from prison this morning having spent almost 17 years in jail, most of it serving a 20-year term for drugs.

The 61-year-old originally from Ballyfermot, Dublin, left maximum security Portlaoise Prison at 9.35am.

He walked through large wooden doors at the jail to a waiting silver Ford Mondeo parked just metres away driven by two associates.

The vehicle had been permitted by the prison authorities to drive onto the prison campus through the main vehicle entrance for the purposes of parking right beside the wooden door where Gilligan walked out.


It meant Gilligan could get into the car while still on the prison campus and did not need to walk past the media waiting outside the main gates onto the public road.

He was smiling as he walked to the car and as he sped past the media waiting at the main entrance, he was smiling and talking on his mobile phone in the back of the vehicle.

Gardaí at the entrance kept the media clear of the path of his vehicle to facilitate his swift and unimpeded departure.

A large media presence was in evidence for what was one of the most high profile releases from an Irish prison in decades. Journalists, photographers and TV camera crews began to gather outside the prison from yesterday afternoon.

They did so in the event the Irish Prison Service released the father of two early in a bid to avoid the scenes when photographers on motorbikes chased convicted rapist Larry Murphy on his release from Arbour Hill jail in Dublin three years ago.

Gilligan was followed from the prison by some media in cars and on motorbikes this morning.

There was a modest Garda presence at the exit of the prison, with those uniformed and plain clothes gardai put in place specifically for the release.

A small number of onlookers had also gathered, most of them men in their early 20s. Some slept in their cars outside the jail to ensure they would be present when the release took place.

“It’s not every day you’re going to see John Gilligan is it, you know what I mean?” one of the onlookers told The Irish Times.

Many Garda and prison sources expect Gilligan to leave the country.

He was convicted in 2001 of trafficking cannabis and initially jailed for 28 years. That term was later reduced on appeal to 20 years.

It was also backdated to take into consideration time he had spent on remand awaiting trial, at first in jail in the UK from where he was extradited to Ireland and then in prison here.

He was also entitled to remission, or time off for good behaviour, of 25 per cent; equating to five years in his case. It was a legal entitlement not adversely impacted by a very poor record while in jail.

During his drugs sentence, which he served on the E1 landing of Portlaoise Prison which is reserved for gangland criminals, he was caught in possession of mobile phones and also issued threats against prison officers.

He was convicted of those crimes and his term of imprisonment was extended by additional short sentences handed down by the courts for those crimes committed while in custody.

Gilligan was charged with the 1996 murder of Veronica Guerin but was acquitted of that crime. The sentence he received at the time for drug dealing remains the longest drugs term ever imposed by an Irish court.

Other members of his gang were convicted of Guerin’s murder.

Paul 'Hippo' Ward appealed his conviction and won. He has since been released from a 12-year term imposed for his role in a riot in Mountjoy Prison while serving the murder sentence before that conviction was overturned.

Brian Meehan is still serving a life term for the murder and is the only member of Gilligan's gang still in prison.

The man who allegedly fired the fatal shots into Guerin, Patrick Eugene 'Dutchy' Holland, died while in prison in the UK for a kidnapping unrelated to the Gilligan gang's activities.

Gilligan was released from a prison sentence in November 1993 for handling stolen goods and between that time and the murder of Guerin in June 1996 he built the largest drug smuggling empire Ireland had ever seen.

It specialised in dealing in cannabis and amassed considerable wealth for the gang leader that saw him build the Jessbrook 3,500 seater show jumping arena which has been seized and offered for sale by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Gilligan and his wife Geraldine have fought the seizure of the estate at every opportunity and just four weeks ago were successful in having a lis pendens registered against the property; a legal mechanism which essentially warns any would-be buyer than the asset is subject to ongoing litigation.

As part of the same action, he is seeking to have the substantive case re-opened in an apparent bid to have the arena and related buildings and lands returned to him.

This is despite some offers having just been received for the asset since it went on sale last month after he had apparently lost his final appeals in court.

Geraldine Gilligan still retains a house and parcel of land on the estate near Johnstownbridge on the Kildare-Meath border, with the Criminal Assets Bureau's case in relation those assets still before the Supreme Court.

The bureau was established in the immediate aftermath of, and as a result of, the murder of Guerin and its first target was Gilligan.

The unit’s legal battle against him began in 1997 on the inception of the bureau and has been fought to the current day, with Gilligan benefitting from free legal aid to fight the case from his prison cell.

While it seemed he had exhausted all his appeal options after a 17-year legal battle while he was on free legal aid, he has been successful in securing a notice of lis pendens, or suit pending. It effectively amounts to a public notice warning that the estate is subject to litigation.

Having been released, Gilligan will most likely continue to be entitled to free legal aid to continue the case if he wishes.

The bureau must now return to the High Court and make a fresh application to convince the court its case against Gilligan was fair and legally sound. If the court agrees, the lis pendens notice would be vacated.

The assets can still be sold with the notice attached to them. However, the fact Gilligan has secured the notice before any sale means if he were to go on and have the seizure of the asset over turned, the asset would have to be reinstated to him by the new owner; a fact that may deter some would-be buyers.