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Quinn's plea to EC over Dublin 'embargo' on his cement

Declassified: The 1987 files

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 21/08/2015

Sean Quinn
Sean Quinn

Sean Quinn lobbied the European Commission after claiming Irish Government economic policies were threatening his business.

He accused Dublin of protectionism after it said State contracts would only be awarded to firms using cement from the Republic. Quinn (left) - who went on to become Ireland's richest man - claimed a covert "buy Irish" campaign hit his trade.

He wrote to Brussels in 1985 warning the continued prosperity of his company was reaching a critical level. In 1983 the Irish Government had introduced a ministerial directive ordering contractors not to use products purchased outside the Republic.

It followed complaints about the high level of building materials being imported from Northern Ireland. A 1985 report said the market for Irish concrete and quarry products was under threat from northern plants.

It noted Northern Ireland producers were in receipt of grant aid, giving them an unfair advantage over southern plants, which did not receive grants.

However, Mr Quinn claimed the policy was impacting on his quarry business in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh. In July 1985 he wrote to the European Commission outlining his concerns.

He wrote: "We would ask you to investigate the complaint that materials from Northern Ireland may not be used for the construction industry within the Republic of Ireland, with particular emphasis on concrete products."

He said the embargo was being enforced through the Import Substitution Branch.

It was set up by Dublin following the collapse of an official Buy Irish Campaign, which may have contravened EEC law.

Contractors were told that products purchased outside the Republic were not acceptable.

Quinn said cement used at his works was sourced from Cookstown, Co Tyrone. He added: "The action of the Import Substitution Branch has had such success within the past six months that the prosperity of this company and the livelihood of its 180 employees is reaching a critical level."

He cited examples where products manufactured by his company were banned on Irish Government contracts. These included projects at Loreto Convent School in Letterkenny, Co Donegal; a housing scheme in Granard, Co Longford, and Ballyconnell fire station in Co Cavan.

Similar concerns were raised by Concrete (Northern Ireland) Ltd, based in Dromore, Co Down.

A memo, compiled by an NIO official, said: "If the above is accurate it seems quite clear that there is a strong case of economic protectionism being pursued in the Republic to prevent northern companies taking any business."

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