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Masked man behind Quinn threats is former Real IRA member John Connolly, police told

 

John Connolly
John Connolly
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

This is the Real IRA bomber who cops on both sides of the border accuse of being behind the threats against Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) directors.

He is John Connolly - a suspected key member of Cyril 'Dublin Jimmy' McGuinness' crime gang - who has been named to police as the masked man who detectives believe warned kidnap and torture victim Kevin Lunney that he could have been killed "very easily".

Properties connected to the dissident republican in Co Cavan have been raided by gardai investigating the abduction of Mr Lunney, who had his leg broken and the initials QIH carved into his chest.

The gang was instructed by career criminal McGuinness, who dropped dead on Friday during police searches of a house he was lying low at in Derbyshire, England. The 54-year-old, described by retired PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter as "a major participant in serious and organised crime", suffered a heart attack.

Acting on the orders of what QIH bosses have described as a "paymaster", McGuinness oversaw the September kidnap of Kevin Lunney.

When the QIH directors refused to give in to the violence and intimidation more threats were made against them.

A masked man told the Irish News two weeks ago that Mr Lunney, his brother Tony Lunney, QIH chief executive Liam McCaffrey, chief finance officer Dara O'Reilly and former Fine Gael councillor John McCartin were all at risk.

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Both the PSNI and Garda suspect the balaclava-wearing thug issuing the threat was former Real IRA bomber John Connolly - a friend of Cyril McGuinness - who denies any links to crime.

The dissident, a keen hunter, is believed to be the masked man, who said: "This is your last warning to resign your positions in QIH. Obviously yous (sic) have not learned the lesson after what happened to Kevin, if we had wanted we could have killed him very easily.

"The Quinn family that have employed hundreds of people in work were stabbed in the back. We have the capabilities and manpower to see this through until the end, a 'permanent solution' it will be."

John Connolly has been named as the hooded man who read threats out to QIH directors.
John Connolly has been named as the hooded man who read threats out to QIH directors.

Connolly, who is from Newtownbutler in Co Fermanagh, was jailed for 14 years after being caught with a 220lb Real IRA mortar bomb the day before Remembrance Sunday in November 2000.

He and two accomplices had planned to fire the 'barrack buster' at a police station but were arrested by undercover soldiers.

While in jail Connolly commanded the Real IRA inmates and organised a rooftop protest against prison conditions.

The 44-year-old who now lives in Co Cavan, was freed on licence in 2007 and has drifted away from politics despite remaining a hardline republican.

When images of a masked man threatening QIH directors were published, both the PSNI and Garda received calls from the public naming him as John Connolly.

Pictures of him wearing similar clothing are also in the hands of detectives involved in Friday's raids at properties connected to him in Co Cavan.

Kevin Lunney (Quinn Industrial Holdings)
Kevin Lunney (Quinn Industrial Holdings)

Connolly previously told Sunday Life he had abandoned violence, saying: "I am not involved in militant republicanism in any way.

"When I got out of jail in 2007 I broke all contact with the IRA. If I'm guilty of anything it is of being a proud, unrepentant Irish republican."

Like Connolly, his now deceased pal also had links to violent republicanism.

Mob boss Cyril 'Dublin Jimmy' McGuinness was able to run his crime empire for decades protected by IRA bosses who he helped carry out terror attacks in London.

The 54-year-old was on an MI5 terror watch list for sourcing vehicles for Provo chiefs for attacks such as the IRA's 1993 Bishopsgate bomb in London, which caused over £1bn of damage, according to M15 officer David Shayler.

McGuinness was also jailed in Belgium for the theft of heavy farm machinery, and was involved in smuggling and the illegal dumping of waste.

Cyril McGuinness
Cyril McGuinness

More recently he was believed to have been behind a series of ATM thefts around the Fermanagh border, including counties Monaghan and Cavan, and right across Ireland, including one in Kerry which he was arrested over.

Ex-police chief Norman Baxter, whose officers investigated McGuinness, said: "He was a major participant in serious and organised crime throughout Ireland and further afield.

"He was involved in a range of crime, from supporting republican terrorism by providing logistical support to carry out attacks on targets in England, to the theft of high value machinery."

"Cyril McGuinness also had no regard for human health through disposing waste illegally, endangering public health," added Mr Baxter.

"It is no surprise he had become entangled in the Quinn controversy as he originated from the Derrylin area and would have had lots of contacts there. He was truly a career criminal."

McGuinness is understood to have become involved in the QIH dispute after being approached by an individual, who was a long-time friend, and who is referred to by the under-threat directors as the "paymaster".

He was paid to organise the abduction and torture of Kevin Lunney as a warning to him and his colleagues to resign their senior positions at the business.

Police believe McGuinness was the man the gang telephoned and referred to as "boss" as they were torturing the father-of-six, who was snatched near his Fermanagh home before being driven in a horse box over the border and brutally beaten.

The companies that make up QIH were once owned by Sean Quinn, a former billionaire, who for a time was Ireland's richest man. When his empire collapsed after his bankruptcy a group of businessmen, including his former associates, bought the firms.

Mr Lunney, who worked with Mr Quinn for many years and remained loyal to him after his financial woes, was reinstated as a director.

Mr Quinn was also employed as a consultant on a €500,000 per year salary, but quit the role in 2016 saying he was forced out and his family had been "stabbed in the back".

The Co Fermanagh tycoon repeatedly condemned attacks on property belonging to the owners of his former businesses and the torture of his former friend Kevin Lunney.

Mr Quinn told Channel 4 last month that he had no part in commissioning or sanctioning the abduction and torture of Mr Lunney.

"I'd have no hand, act or part or no knowledge or no gain; I'd have no benefit of doing anything to Kevin Lunney.

"Kevin Lunney and I were good friends for years."

He said people in his local community are angry about how he claims he was treated by QIH executives.

The businessman added: "The locals are also very angry about that they've done to me: throwing me out the gate, giving me nothing, sacking me. They're very, very angry."

Mr Quinn said the attacks that are being carried out against Quinn executives are not being carried out in his name.

He said: "I'd think somebody with a high IQ would know that Sean Quinn is not a real fool. And that he would know that if something would have happened to Kevin Lunney, that people would be looking in his direction.

"Wouldn't I know that? So, unless they consider me a real idiot, there's no way that I could allow that to be done in my name."

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