Sunday 25 August 2019

Executives reveal fears of death threats in Sean Quinn's Derrylin

The next chapter in the ongoing corporate saga will be murder, writes Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald

UNDER ATTACK: From left, Kevin Lunney, chief operations officer, Liam McCaffrey, chief executive officer, and Dara O’Reilly, chief finance officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh. Photo: Oliver McVeigh
UNDER ATTACK: From left, Kevin Lunney, chief operations officer, Liam McCaffrey, chief executive officer, and Dara O’Reilly, chief finance officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh. Photo: Oliver McVeigh
HAPPIER TIMES: Sean Quinn celebrates his return with drinks for staff at the company’s headquarters. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

'In the early 1980s we had the notorious Shankill Butchers, based in Belfast... Now in 2018 we have the Derrylin Butchers. This gang is led by local men Kevin Lunney and Liam McCaffrey... with the help of ... Dara O'Reilly."

That abridged quote is one of numerous, grotesquely defamatory, untrue and incendiary posts from a Facebook community page dedicated to Sean Quinn, the billionaire-to-bankrupt founder of the former eponymous Quinn Group.

The Facebook targets, among others, are McCaffrey, Lunney and O'Reilly, three of Sean Quinn's former key lieutenants who, along with senior management of the company that rescued key assets of the former Quinn Group from disposal, are now facing death threats.

What started out as a malicious online campaign after Sean Quinn Snr parted ways with Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH), the entity backed by three American hedge funds - which paid €100m for the former cement and industrial assets - has morphed into a terrifying spate of arson attacks which almost claimed the lives of O'Reilly, his wife and their two young children.

When I travelled to Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, last week, the last person I expected to speak to me was Dara O'Reilly.

The last time we spoke was in 2012, when I doorstepped him at 7am at his home in Butlersbridge, Co Cavan.

O'Reilly was protective of his family then. He is terrified for their safety now following an attack in recent weeks where his car was doused with petrol and set alight after the family had gone to bed.

It was one of three arson attacks so far directed at O'Reilly and members of the Lunney family, all of which, significantly, have taken place in the Republic of Ireland. "It could have been worse," says O'Reilly, who along with McCaffrey and Lunney, have agreed to speak to me to highlight the risks to lives and property in the region.

"Its harder for the children," says O'Reilly, quietly.

"Children shouldn't have to be worried about things happening in their home, they should feel safe in their home".

Kevin Lunney, whose own children have had to run the gauntlet of "wanted" posters on their way to school, says he hopes his children are resilient to deal with the threats.

"Like Dara said, our children should not be living with this worry," said Lunney.

For his part, Sean Quinn Snr and his son, Sean Quinn Jnr, have publicly condemned the attacks.

"As the relationship between the community and Quinn Industrial Holdings deteriorates further it appears to me that it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed," Quinn Jnr told Rodney Edwards of The Impartial Reporter last week.

Quinn Jnr denied the attacks were being carried out by Quinn supporters, but appeared to fan the flames of local tensions by unexpectedly describing McCaffrey, O'Reilly and Lunney as "pariahs" in the local community.

Whoever is directing the campaign of terror - an ex-INLA member is suspected of involvement in the more serious arson attacks - the origins of the current wave of intimidation lie in a much happier time in December 2014. That was when US hedge funds Brigade Capital, Silverpoint Capital and Contrarian Capital bought into the business, offering local management a 22pc stake.

This in turn offered the community a pathway to bring the business back into local ownership. According to McCaffrey, the new QIH board and its US backers could not countenance Sean Quinn as a director or officer, not least because he was still [at that time] an undischarged bankrupt and had served nine weeks in jail for contempt of court for attempting to put €500m worth of property assets beyond the reach of the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank.

But the company did offer a potential pathway for Sean Quinn, extending a €500,000-a-year consultancy to the former founder at the behest of McCaffrey, who advocated strongly for a consultancy role for Sean Quinn and his son Sean Quinn Jnr.

The 'second coming' was celebrated with front-page pictures splashed across national newspapers in December 2014, with images of Sean Quinn - about to be released from a €2.8bn bankruptcy - carrying a tray of whiskey and beer for staff inside the Derrylin HQ of QIH.

Local businessman John McCartan, who had been instrumental in helping place the Quinn assets back into local ownership, said there was "something very poetic" about Sean Quinn's return.

But the poetry did not last.

McCaffrey, who says he can understand why a broader group of people have sympathy for Sean Quinn, whom he spent many "brilliant" years with, says his former boss "didn't realise that his role hadn't been the same as it had been for 40 years when he owned and controlled the businesses absolutely".

The QIH/Quinn relationship was terminated in May 2016 after multiple allegations of fraud and inappropriate behaviour levelled at the senior management team were refuted by third-party advisers hired by the QIH Board.

The antagonisms which led to the three recent arson attacks intensified last August after a meeting, attended by several hundred people, was addressed by a tearful Sean Quinn, who told supporters there was nobody who could make a greater success of QIH than him. Last week, Sean Quinn Jnr told The Impartial Reporter his father had been "sacked" after "false promises" were made to him.

The social media onslaughts continue unabated, with requests to take down inflammatory posts spurned despite the power of words to have real-life consequences as the localised but life-threatening attacks attest.

Behind all of the acrimony tearing apart Sean Quinn Snr's birthplace is a thriving business providing more than 830 jobs in one of the most economically deprived areas on the Co Cavan-Co Fermanagh border.

QIH, spanning more than 1,000 acres across the Border, is intrinsic to the success of the local economy.

Every day, 120 truck loads traverse the roads around the parish of Teemore, where Sean Quinn was raised, en route to the UK, which accounts for more than 50pc of the business of QIH.

QIH, which has an annual turnover of €209m, and created 200 new jobs in less than three years, has just acquired a quarry in Fivemiletown that will last for a generation.

QIH provides bursaries and apprenticeships for local schoolchildren, schemes for graduates and training programmes, including charterships, for its employees.

But all of that is in jeopardy, with future investment and recruitment on the line.

Incredibly, not one single person has been arrested.

Make no mistake: if this were a Facebook, a Microsoft or a Dell in Dublin, Cork or Limerick, there would be emergency sessions in the Dail and targeted cross-border law enforcement operations akin to those deployed for gangland or paramilitary threats.

I've spent many times, too many times over the last seven years, travelling to Co Fermanagh and Co Cavan covering the so called "Quinn saga".

I fear my next visits there will be to cover funerals. No company or society can countenance that prospect.

Sunday Independent

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