Thursday 25 December 2014

Quinn heartland overjoyed at bid to reclaim part of empire

Loyalty of locals strong as ever as group plans to buy elements of tycoon's former business

Published 12/07/2014 | 02:30

Sean Quinn
Sean Quinn
John McCartin
Fr Gerry Comiskey
Quinn supporter Alan Doyle
Factories once part of Quinn's business, one of which still bears the faint outline of the Q logo
Factories once part of Quinn's business, one of which still bears the faint outline of the Q logo

AT one of the sprawling factories that once defined Sean Quinn's heartland, the faint outline of the Q logo is still visible on the facade.

New management are at the helm and the empire that propelled the renowned local businessman into the rich league is no more.

But the enormous presence of Quinn has not faded, nor has the loyalty shown towards him.

This week saw a new development in the Quinn tale as it was announced a group of local businessmen, including ex-Quinn Group executives, plan to buy out elements of the manufacturing operations once controlled by the former tycoon and now operated by Aventas Manufacturing Group Ltd. The consortium hopes the deal to run two divisions of the old Quinn business empire will be completed by September.

And locals believe that once it goes through, Sean Quinn's legacy will be secured.

"It's the first morale boost for the local community,'' says businessman John McCartin, who is involved in the buyout venture.

"It's been very broadly welcomed. My phone hasn't stopped and people are walking up to me on the street. They're just so relieved. The focus is now local and the commitment is to the locality.''

It has been claimed that Mr Quinn is jubilant about the plan, but Mr McCartin stresses that he is not involved in the venture.

So why is this regarded as such an important development for the local community?

Anybody who knows the border area around Cavan and Fermanagh, or has visited it, will likely understand in some part the adulation for Mr Quinn.

On the winding, nondescript road between Ballyconnell in Co Cavan and Derrylin in Co Fermanagh, in the heart of Quinn territory, the former billionaire has firmly placed his stamp on the landscape.

Quinn Cement, Quinn Packaging and Quinn Therm are just some of the operations dominating the countryside. Smoke billows from an imposing cement factory in the skyline over Ballyconnell. Trucks rumble by, still bearing the Quinn name.

Red signs pepper the roadway, declaring that Quinn is the "only man to run the show".

He is regarded as the man who pulled the region out of the financial backwater, brought employment and prosperity and did what the powers that be in Dublin failed to do.

Locals will admit that he made mistakes, grave mistakes, but there is a feeling that what he has done for the area far outweighs those actions.

"We feel this is now securing his legacy," says Fr Gerry Comiskey of the local Drumlane parish.

"These guys owe an enormous debt to Quinn for setting them up, as well as hundreds of others who stayed in the locality who did exceptionally well in the business.

"They know that they have inherited something fantastic and they want to secure it for their children and their children's children."

Mr Quinn remains steeped in the area. Just outside Ballyconnell, is the imposing house where he lives with his wife Patricia. Close by is the Slieve Russell Hotel, once part of his empire.

Fr Comiskey says Quinn walks the grounds of the hotel every morning. He is often seen around the town. He attends the chapel in Ballyconnell, supports local GAA and attends the local pub. He plays cards in Derrylin, usually once a week with friends.

The offices of what is now Aventas Manufacturing Group, which took over the Quinn Group after a receiver was appointed, is on the site where Mr Quinn grew up.

"The reason he has endeared himself to the locals is that he has always been so unassuming,'' says Fr Comiskey, who visited Mr Quinn every week when he was in jail.

"You could meet him walking about here... he knows everybody by name.

"The fall was spectacular as well, but he is an incredible optimist, always looking on the bright side.''

The QBRC consortium is being backed by UK private equity house Endless, which has already started due diligence.

Under the proposed deal, Endless will be the main owner of the business, which employs hundreds of people. It is planned that after about five years the business will move to local full control.

Other directors will include Mr Quinn's former number two, now QBRC chief executive Liam McCaffrey, the group's chief financial officer Dara O'Reilly and development officer Kevin Lunny.

A memorandum of understanding was signed last Monday night regarding the sale of the packaging and construction industry supplies businesses only.

The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed, and Mr McCartin is adamant that Mr Quinn is neither providing financial backing nor professional advice.

"I'm sure Sean Quinn would be very happy to see his legacy preserved,'' says Mr McCartin, who is also a local Fine Gael councillor.

"But the most important thing here is the economic prosperity of the region, it's the only thing of real importance.

"When we started to do this, we had to sound him out, see how he felt about it. But he's not providing advice. Obviously he has thoughts and feelings on it, but no, we are not being advised by Sean Quinn or his family.''

The support is not just confined to Cavan. Across the county border in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, there's similar adulation.

Local undertaker Joey Smith (59) says there's a "sigh of relief in the whole locality'' at news of the local nature of the buyout.

"The fear was that outside buyers could have come in. We're happy that this buyout and the old management regime will be put back in place,'' he says.

Alan Doyle, originally from Dublin but now retired in Ballinamore, says the move has been welcomed widely.

"People admit Sean Quinn made mistakes, but they also feel that what he's done in the area over the last decades more than outweighs anything that has happened now," he says.

Mr McCartin says the strength of feeling towards the businesses cannot be underestimated – as everybody knows somebody who works there.

"When you could build businesses that seemed to be able to take over the world from Ballyconnell, it was a tremendous source of pride.

"The Quinn name had become not just the property of Sean Quinn, it had become the property of the north-west.''

Irish Independent

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