Tuesday 25 April 2017

Family heartache as business is lost to bitter recession

Owners tell of devastation after store they built up is placed into receivership by AIB

DIFFICULT TIMES: Michael and Brigid Quinn and their children, Kevin, 14, Michael, 17, and
Sarah, 21, and grandparents Bridie and Paddy Ward, who founded Quinn's Superstore, which
has been taken over by AIB. Photo: David Conachy
DIFFICULT TIMES: Michael and Brigid Quinn and their children, Kevin, 14, Michael, 17, and Sarah, 21, and grandparents Bridie and Paddy Ward, who founded Quinn's Superstore, which has been taken over by AIB. Photo: David Conachy
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A couple whose long-standing family business was placed in receivership to recover a €7.4m bank debt have warned of the toll of the recession on small rural businesses.

In a harrowing account, Michael and Brigid Quinn have described the personal devastation when their own supermarket and petrol station in Carrickmacross was placed into receivership by AIB earlier this year.

The Monaghan couple say they could have met their debts had they just been given time to work through a rocky period in their otherwise profitable business. Instead, a receiver was appointed, their services dispensed with and they are facing into a bleak future with a lifetime of debt.

"It is our view that the banks need to have a more caring approach to our people and businesses to help all of us survive the greatest recession we have ever seen," said Mr Quinn.

Cloughvalley Stores has a long community history. Mrs Quinn's parents, Bridie and Paddy Ward, started it as a grocery store in 1970. "It was a hard slog. We opened at 8am and stayed open until 12, including Christmas Day," said Brigid's father.

Brigid and Michael bought the business from her parents and built it up over 23 years.

It was a typical country business. They raised their family above the shop before building a house across the road from the business. They borrowed €7.4m to expand in 2006. Two years later, business slumped. The Quinns blamed roadworks in the town. They fell into arrears with the Revenue Commissioners while trying to meet their bank repayments. AIB's repayment alone was more than €8,500 a week.

When the Revenue came after them to settle their tax bill in 2010, they said the bank wouldn't reduce their repayments. They ran up bank arrears since last September to settle their tax bill. By December they believed they were back on track: they had almost cleared their tax bill and were about to tackle their bank debts. The store actually made a profit in 2010.

But AIB pulled the plug, apparently without warning. "On January 11, a faxed copy of a letter demanding full payment (of) the money from the bank came into the general office," said Mrs Quinn. "It was faxed in at 4.30. I wasn't there at the time and when I came back, I saw it on my desk. I realised how serious it was and we tried to contact AIB the following day through our accountant but no one was available."

The receiver, Kavanagh Fennell, was appointed one day later.

"It was totally out of the blue. We didn't know what to do," said Mrs Quinn.

"We were told that if we stayed and cooperated with the receiver, we would have an opportunity to buy the business back but if we didn't we would be escorted from the premises. We felt we were left with no choice but to stay and work."

The Quinns stayed for over four months, managing the business, on a salary paid by the receiver. They found it hard to manage the businesses. They claimed at one point the utility bills were not paid and the company mobile phones were cut off. They had no access to money collected for a charity, World Vision.

The Quinns still hoped to get their business back. They found another bank to support them in mounting a bid to buy the business back.

When they were summoned to Dublin for a meeting with the receiver on May 18, they expected to be told their bid was being accepted. Instead they were told their services were no longer required.

"I just had to leave the room. Michael stayed and said to the receiver, you don't realise, that woman was raised in that business," said Mrs Quinn.

"There was no train back until 1.20pm. It was the longest few hours of my life. I sat in Connolly Station crying. I just wasn't fit to talk. When we finally got back to Carrick, the receivers had travelled from Dublin and were already in the shop and had told the loyal hard-working staff that myself and Michael were no longer involved in the business."

The receiver had hired a security firm. The one-time owners were to clear their desks, under the supervision of one of the receivers' staff. Their computer passwords were changed and their electronic fobs deactivated.

Tensions mounted and a stand-off ensued two days later when Michael and Brigid challenged the receiver's representative, Noirin Hasset, to leave. Gardai were called, the crowd swelled and scores of people gathered in support for the Quinns.

Ms Hasset tried to close the store. When she asked gardai to remove Mr Quinn and his family, they said nothing could be done as no law had been broken. She later complained that she had been intimidated.

The stand-off ended and the crowd dispersed at 1am with an agreement to meet the receiver.

Last week the Quinns were summonsed to court by the receiver, who was granted a temporary injunction restraining them from the premises. The judge also appointed a mediator to assist both sides in the case, which the Quinns say they are grateful for. The receiver agreed to release €18,000 owed to the Quinns by the receiver for managing the store.

The Quinns' future is uncertain, and the stress is clearly taking its toll. Their three children, Sarah, Michael and Kevin, have all been affected. A second shop in Crossmaglen is still operating, but is under pressure.

"We have a nice house but it's mortgaged to the hilt. We are already in arrears and we have little income coming in. We are not entitled to the dole because we are self-employed," Ms Quinn said.

"It's an awful pity this has happened to us but it has happened to loads of other families. What we would say to other people is to go and get advice and don't let the banks intimidate you. Because that is what happened to us. We are convinced that it didn't matter what we did, it was never going to be right for the bank."

Sunday Independent

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