Friday 31 March 2017

Anger creeps in as workers absorb grim news on future

'(I blame) Sean Quinn and I think a lot of the staff feel the same'

IN clusters of five and six, anxious-faced staff took terse drags of their cigarettes, bracing themselves for the worst, before going inside to hear how bad things really were.

The dark rainclouds that spilled over Quinn Country yesterday seemed like portents of doom.

Over the road from the Quinn Insurance offices in Cavan town, a wedding was underway, red carpet rolled out and with champagne and strawberries at the door.

In an odd juxtaposition of festivities, tragedy and something akin to black comedy, the music that blared from the speakers as the newlyweds entered their reception was 'Another One Bites the Dust'.

The announcement of redundancies was bad enough -- but the real shell shock for staff came with the statement issued at 3pm that Quinn Insurance was now to be sold.

It came as a bolt out of the blue, just half an hour before the staff were briefed about the future of the company as the administrators foresaw it.

Everything is up in the air again and staff have had as much as they can deal with for now. Many just want to walk away with something they can rely on while they still can. Who knows what the next six months may bring, they ask themselves.

Down the road in Ballyconnell, Sean Quinn's impressive three-storey lakeside home, constructed with stone from his own quarries, stood silent behind firmly locked gates and there was no answer at the electronic buzzer.

Two shiny black cars were parked out back and a light shone from a chandelier on a second-floor landing. There was a glimpse of heavy draped curtains and gold striped wallpaper -- a comfortable house for the man who was once the richest in Ireland but whose wealth has now been wiped out.

All the signs of his perilously crumbling empire remain -- the trucks on the road, the silos, the enormous Slieve Russell Hotel, the big Quinn Group logo cleverly landscaped into the grounds of his Cavan offices.

Quinn Insurance alone pays out €3m each month in wages in Cavan, with an estimated €12m for all employees working in the region.

The meeting over, most staff sped away in their cars, indicating with a shake of their heads that they, understandably, did not wish to share their immediate reaction to the news with the media.

An anger towards Sean Quinn, once loyally deemed blameless for this fiasco, is slowly creeping in, though staff are slow to publicly voice it.

"Who do I blame? I blame Sean Quinn," one woman whispered.

"I'll tell you but I won't put my name to it -- Sean Quinn and I think a lot of the staff feel the same," said another.

A total of 900 jobs will be axed through voluntary redundancies in what the administrators term a "resize" of the company. The administrators had no choice but to do this, they said.

"The steps being taken today, although regrettable and painful for the employees of the company and their families, are necessary to ensure the long-term security of these positions."

Silence hung over the briefing as staff received the news. But there was also a strange relief.

The package being put before employees is, even by their own admission, generous, with four weeks pay per year of service on top of the statutory entitlements.

There may also be benefits in the form of health insurance and they will get help with interview skills and with their CVs, they were assured.

Quinn Insurance employee Kathleen Mulligan of Cavan town said it was an unfortunate day for Sean Quinn. "He thought he was doing right and then to land at this day," she shook her head.

"We thought we were here forever but we're not," she said sadly. She has four grown-up children, two still living with her.

"And there'll be no jobs at Quinn for them either," she added.

Patricia Sorohan (30) just recently back from maternity leave at Quinn Insurance said she has been working with the company for the past three-and-a-half years. It was a great place to work -- full of camaraderie and supportive. Even yesterday evening the employees were still preparing to head out on their usual night out, she said, adding: "We need it."

She is worried about her financial future. Her husband works at a nearby timber firm and has recently been reduced to a three-day week.

"We're watching every penny already," she said. "We've just built a house in Cavan and there's not a lot to fall back on in terms of jobs around here. I'm worried that with the company being sold, we won't have a guarantee that our jobs are safe -- that's the frustrating part."

Irish Independent

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