Dearbhail McDonald: ‘Vicious attacks on QIH executives reminiscent of a dark Border past’

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Dearbhail McDonald: ‘Vicious attacks on QIH executives reminiscent of a dark Border past’


The burnt-out car belonging to the daughter of Tony Lunney, a senior manager at QIH
The burnt-out car belonging to the daughter of Tony Lunney, a senior manager at QIH

HAD the wind been blowing in a different direction after arsonists set Dara O’Reilly’s car alight, you could have been reading about the murders of an entire family instead of yet another near-miss attack on a business executive working for Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

O’Reilly, the chief financial officer of QIH, was upstairs in his home with his wife and two children when arsonists attacked his property in Butlersbridge, Co Cavan.

His life and that of his family were saved by favourable winds and the quick actions of the emergency services.

O’Reilly, a former senior lieutenant in the once powerful Quinn Group founded by the ex-billionaire Sean Quinn, is not alone.

There have been more than 70 attacks on the Fermanagh-Cavan border since 2011, when the Quinn Group was placed into share receivership by the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank. And there have been more than 20 attacks in the last three years targeting the senior management running companies formerly owned by Sean Quinn Snr.

For his part, Sean Quinn Snr, who was jailed for nine weeks for contempt of court in 2012 – he and his son Sean Jr, were jailed for their part in continuing to put assets beyond the reach of the IBRC – has wept vociferous tears and cried foul that he hasn’t been able to regain control of his once private empire.

He has done so while publicly condemning attacks, allegedly perpetrated by a ‘lunatic fringe’ of Quinn supporters who want to see him returned to his purported rightful place.

The mounting spate of arson incidents is truly terrifying and unprecedented in Irish corporate life. In one incident, the tyre factory of a QIH senior manager was gutted after being set alight. The attack on the factory came hours after an update to QIH staff in which QIH condemned intimidation of its managers and staff.

And last Tuesday night, the life and property of Tony Lunney, another senior manager at QIH, was jeopardised when a car belonging to Lunney’s daughter was set alight.

The ‘lesser’ intimidatory attacks on QIH’s owners, officers, staff and their families, bear all the hallmarks of paramilitarism that blighted the border – and beyond – during the worst years of the Troubles. They are too numerous to mention, but they include the display of signs criticising senior management and their salaries – one sign refers to a ‘Stolen Empire’ – as well as egregious abuses and false allegations spread on social media.

The onslaught includes a pig’s head dumped at the home of a director, packages with rifle bullets and a funeral wreath warning the workers of Vestas – the energy company the Quinn Group once owned – with a note to stay away from the Slieve Rushen wind farm or face being shot.

When a group of Irish investors backed by three US hedge funds bought Quinn group operations in Cavan and Fermanagh in 2014, it was widely believed that this would herald the pathway to the former billionaire’s eventual ownership of QIH.

The instalment of former Quinn Group directors such as O’Reilly and McCaffrey augured well that this might be the outcome.

But Quinn Snr, hired as a €500,000 a year consultant with QIH – which insisted that Quinn Snr could not have a management role or ownership stake – parted ways two years ago.

Last August Quinn Snr complained bitterly again at a public meeting that he had been treated deplorably, insisting he was the best man to ‘sort out’ QIH, lamenting that efforts to secure his business back had been thwarted at every turn.

Quinn Snr moved on, but the attacks against QIH directors not only continued but intensified, culminating in the recent spate of arson attacks directed against some of his former closest colleagues. As with many activities on the border, gardai and PSNI have been met with a stunning omerta and an inconceivable impunity on the part of the perpetrators.

In the wake of the latest attack, QIH chief executive Liam McCaffrey – one of the most senior players in the former Quinn Group – lamented the threats to the lives and well-being of staff on both sides of the Border.

“It is also enormously frustrating that following years of intimidation and threats and a substantial escalation of violence over recent months that not a single arrest has been made,” said McCaffrey, raising direct concerns for more than 830 staff, their families and the wider Border communities.

“Unless politicians and the authorities on both sides of the Border properly prioritise and resource this issue, as they have with gangland and paramilitary crime in other areas, lives will be lost.”

It is tempting to dismiss the latest iteration of ‘The Quinn Saga,’ replete with movie grade tales of stolen assets, missing rent rolls and multi-billion bets on the property and banking sectors, as another Bandit Country style tale of lawlessness and thwarted loyalties.

But can you imagine any other Irish or Irish-based company with international investors – and employing almost 1,000 workers – that could be subjected to such hostilities and a seeming collapse in the rule of law? McCaffrey’s chilling but not entirely improbable prediction that lives will be lost, cannot be allowed to pass.

We have been warned.

Sunday Indo Business

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