independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Sean's supporters back him because he's one of their own

For the rest of the country he's still persona non grata, but up here, in spite of everything, there's still an enormous amount of sympathy for a man who quite literally saved Fermanagh and neighbouring west Cavan from economic oblivion.

Yes, it's parochial, and yes, it might not stand up to much scrutiny or rational debate, but the truth of the matter is that few of us have the time or inclination to really figure out the nuances of the whole Quinn debacle.

So in much the same way that the general populace tends to see things in half-baked, abstract terms – that, for example, all bankers are bad guys – Fermanagh people by and large fall back on the default position that Sean Quinn is one of their own.

This is a part of the world where people have long had to live on their wits. Poor land and infrastructure and the legacy of partition have all conspired to make this an economic backwater, so any local man who has made a go of it in business, in spite of it all, commands respect.

The feeling still prevails that this remote and sparse part of the border region gets a raw deal and that its republican reputation hasn't helped.

Things have moved on since the Troubles, but the truth is that traditionally there hasn't been the attachment to the instruments of the state, either state, that you might find in other parts of the country. The argument that the law is the law might not carry as much weight in Kinawley as in Killiney.

Nobody is under any illusions but that Mr Quinn was a hard-nosed businessman but the feeling is that he always showed remarkable loyalty to his own when it came to job creation.

Even when the Quinn Group diversified from cement into everything from glass bottles to plastics and, of course, insurance, the jobs were kept overwhelmingly in the south Fermanagh / west Cavan area. Even, it is said, when it might have made more sense to move operations elsewhere. To the outside world, it might seem that people in Fermanagh and Cavan are in thrall to Quinn, but things are more nuanced than you might imagine: they might not say it in public but there is an acceptance by many that, yes, Quinn made a massive miscalculation and that, inevitably, he must pay the price.

There are plenty who are uncomfortable with, even embarrassed by, the public rallies in support of the Quinn family.

But they don't like to see a local man with a reputation for hard work and decency being subjected to often outrageous vilification or for his character to be blackened for making a business mistake, however big.

There is still a strong sense that Quinn has been scapegoated and that he might not have found himself in jail had it not been for the prevailing climate in which we were all looking for someone, preferably rogue businessmen or greedy bankers, to blame.

By all accounts, Mr Quinn was well liked in Mountjoy – surprising, you might think, for someone depicted as a fat-cat with an opulent lifestyle.

But anyone who knows him knows he's nothing of the sort and that his ordinariness isn't contrived. No small wonder, then, that in a part of the world famed for the poor mouth, he can still count on sympathy and support.

Maurice Kennedy is the editor of the 'Fermanagh Herald'

Irish Independent

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