Belfast Telegraph

Bitter division and violence tear asunder what Sean Quinn had built up from nothing

The attack on businessman Kevin Lunney is latest disturbing incident since Sean Quinn lost control of empire

An electrical substation on a wind farm was attacked on the Ballyconnell Road at Quinn Group premises in 2012
An electrical substation on a wind farm was attacked on the Ballyconnell Road at Quinn Group premises in 2012
A burnt-out oil tanker at the offices of the Aventas group in 2013
Sean Quinn and his wife Patricia
An arson attack in Derrylin in 2011

By Kim Bielenberg

In the borderlands of Cavan and Fermanagh, the legacy of Sean Quinn and his vast business empire dominate the landscape.

There are signs all around of the conglomerate that Quinn literally built up from a hole in the ground on his family farm, and then lost in an instant in spectacular fashion.

Scores of emerald-green Quinn lorries trundle past on the country roads, there are two vast cement plants on either side of the border on the horizon, and the glass and packaging plants buzz with activity.

Quinn even built the wind farms on the hillside, and opened the nearby Slieve Russell Hotel.

None of these businesses are now in the control of Quinn himself, but he is still a looming presence around his stomping grounds of Ballyconnell in Cavan and Derrylin in Co Fermanagh.

It is sobering to think that during the Celtic Tiger era, Quinn was the richest man in Ireland with a fortune estimated at nearly £5bn. His ubiquitous influence extended from gravel to cement, to building materials and glass, to car insurance, hotels and golf courses.

He liked to cultivate a man-of-the-people image, content to ramble about the mountain in his wellies and have the occasional pint or game of poker in modest surroundings with friends.

But he also had a corporate jet, and his 14,700 sq ft mansion in Ballyconnell was described as a “temple to Celtic Tiger excess” with its indoor golf simulator, 15-metre pool, cinema, exercise mezzanine and nine-car garage.

By 2007, at the height of the boom period, few would have predicted that the entire Quinn edifice would come crashing down amid bitter recriminations — and that the fallout would eventually descend into threats, intimidation and ultimately violence.

A campaign of intimidation against Quinn’s successor companies by unidentified individuals has raged in fits and starts since the tycoon lost control of his company in the spring of 2011.

There are reported to have been over 90 separate incidents, including arson attacks and personal threats levelled against those who preside over what once constituted the Quinn empire.

This culminated in Tuesday’s abduction and attack on Kevin Lunney, the father of six who is now chief operating officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings, the company that took control of much of the tycoon’s business empire in 2014.

At one time, Lunney was considered a young protege of Quinn as an up-and-coming executive in his businesses. He was heavily involved in the property investments of the family.

On Tuesday evening at 6.40pm, Lunney was returning to Kinawley, Co Fermanagh and was close to home when his car was suddenly rammed off the road.

Kevin Lunney had the presence of mind to lock himself in the vehicle, but four masked men appeared, smashed the windows, forcibly removed him and bundled him into the boot of a black Audi saloon and drove away.

According to the account of PSNI Superintendent Clive Beatty, he was “beaten to within an inch of his life”.

He had his leg broken in two places with an iron bar, was stabbed with a knife across his face, neck and hands, and had a number of fingernails cut off in a terrifying ordeal that had paramilitary trappings.

He was later dumped half-naked on a roadside at Cornafean, Co Cavan.

The reaction in the locality on both sides of the border has inevitably been one of shock in recent days.

John McCartin, a board member of Quinn Industrial Holdings, said: “We are distraught about what happened to Kevin. He is a man who has never done anything other than work for the betterment of others in the community.”

A statement from the Quinn family released on Wednesday night said: “The people that are carrying out these despicable acts are not doing so for our benefit in any shape or form and we are totally against this type of activity.”

On the following day, Quinn went on Shannonside Radio and said the attack was “barbaric”.

There have been bitter tensions and divisions in the area since Quinn had to relinquish control of his empire, and the executives who now run the company have been the target of online abuse in the locality.

Quinn ultimately lost control of the empire he had created and he was bankrupted as a result of losses he suffered after his massive failed gamble on Anglo Irish Bank shares.

His investment was wiped out when the bank collapsed.

The Quinn Group was renamed Aventas after the business was subsequently taken over by creditors including Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, which is the former Anglo Irish Bank, and US bondholders. The Quinn construction materials and packaging businesses, now known as Quinn Industrial Holdings, were sold for €98m (£86m) in 2014, to a group of local businessmen — including McCartin — backed by US hedge funds.

Before the takeover, there had been a series of incidents at reconstituted Quinn companies, and executives who had taken over management roles were often the targets.

Equipment was set on fire and power cables cut in attacks on company property.

In the summer of 2011, five vehicles were destroyed by fire and two weeks later, a car owned by the group chief executive, Paul O’Brien, was fire-bombed in the driveway of his home.

At the time, Sean Quinn condemned the attacks.

He said: “I wish to state in the most categoric terms that I have no knowledge whatsoever of any unlawful acts in relation to individuals or property associated with the Quinn Group other than what I have read in the media.”

Then, in 2014, there were hopes that peace would prevail in the rolling hills of Cavan and Fermanagh around the plants that have brought hundreds of jobs to the area.

A group of local businessmen and former Quinn executives secured US investment to buy back the business from receivers. They hired Sean Quinn as a consultant for a fee reputed to be around €500,000 (£440,000) per year, and there was also a role for his son Sean Quinn Jnr.

There were triumphant scenes in the village of Derrylin when the tycoon returned to his former headquarters for the first time since the collapse of his empire. It was an event that became known locally as the “second coming”.

Quinn was photographed walking around the building with a tray, dispensing beer and whiskey to former workers. They reportedly cheered as the original ‘Q’ emblem, built into the office facade, re-emerged when the Aventas sign on the office block was removed by the new owners.

In this new mood of optimism, John McCartin said at the time there was “something very poetic” about Quinn’s return. But sadly, the poetry did not last.

The comeback of Sean Quinn and the peace and harmony in the area were to prove short-lived. Tensions quickly emerged between the former tycoon and the management team at Quinn Industrial Holdings, and he left not long afterwards.

In his interview with Shannonside Radio this week, he said: “These guys pushed me out. They sacked me three-and-a-half years ago. I have had no correspondence or no dealings, no arguments, no fights with them since.”

Soon after the falling out, the threats and intimidation against those who were running companies formerly owned by Quinn resumed.

In a sinister twist reminiscent of a mafia movie, a pig’s head was left outside the home of a senior staff member in Fermanagh in 2016. Signs were posted along roadsides naming certain executives as “traitors”. Employees or contractors working for the company were sent bullets, funeral wreaths and warning notes.

The gang of unnamed individuals stepped up their campaign of intimidation last year.

On October 2, the home of Dara O’Reilly, the chief financial officer of QIH, was targeted.

The BMW parked outside his home in Butlersbridge was fire-bombed late at night, generating so much heat that some windows in the house shattered.

He was at home with his wife and children at the time.

In a similar incident a few weeks afterwards, a car was set ablaze outside the home of Tony Lunney, a brother of this week’s victim and also an executive for QIH.

Early in the year, a tyre factory in Belturbet owned by Tony Lunney was burnt down.

This week’s attack on Kevin Lunney was the second assault he has suffered in recent times. Earlier in the year he was attacked in a cafe in Co Cavan. He suffered a broken nose, while a colleague was scalded with boiling water.

The executives of Quinn Industrial Holdings are upset that, by Thursday evening of this week, nobody had been charged for any of the numerous threats and attacks that have happened in recent years.

The Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said this week: “Some of the individuals engaged in this are very careful to ensure that their identities are concealed and the burning of vehicles and destruction of evidence is very evident in this, and have made this particularly difficult.”

However, sources close to the company say at least one executive has been threatened by people who were known to him, and this has been reported to gardai.

Managers have tried to steer Quinn Industrial Holdings through difficult times in the face of threats and intimidation.

One former Quinn employee said this week: “I think there is a lot of sympathy for them locally — anybody I have spoken to thinks this is a terrible thing to have happened.

“These people have just tried to get on with their jobs. They have tried to save the business and this is what they are coming up against.

“I was very shocked by what happened to Kevin Lunney, even though I have always thought that someone would end up being murdered.

“It was shocking because things seemed to have quietened down recently.”

In their statement this week, the Quinn family said: “We are absolutely horrified to hear of the terrible ordeal which Kevin Lunney has endured, and our thoughts are with Kevin and his family.

“We have had no involvement in the Quinn Group for several years now and are deeply frustrated and angered that our former ownership of those businesses is being associated in any way with such abhorrent acts.

“The Quinn family has repeatedly condemned these types of attacks in the strongest possible terms and we will always do so.”

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