Business Irish

Saturday 25 November 2017

Investors fear for jobs in row over ex-Quinn Group assets

Tensions escalate as companies express concerns over threats to staff in border area, writes Gavin McLoughlin

Sean Quinn Snr, once Ireland’s richest man, has spoken out against violence in the border region in the past. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sean Quinn Snr, once Ireland’s richest man, has spoken out against violence in the border region in the past. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Gavin McLoughlin

Gavin McLoughlin

A major effort to save much needed jobs in the border region has been placed in jeopardy following a series of incidents relating to assets formerly owned by the Quinn Group.

Around 100 new jobs were created in the last year alone after various Quinn assets were bought by Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIHL), a cross border group put together by supporters of Sean Quinn Snr.

QIHL spent an estimated €90m buying building and packaging businesses formerly owned by the Quinn conglomerate.

International investors also bought former Quinn assets, including windfarm projects.

However a series of incidents in the Cavan/Fermanagh area has forced several of the companies to review the safety of their operations.

Mantlin, the owner of a former Quinn windfarm in the area, said it was "very concerned" about the message the incidents were sending out.

"As a European company which has invested in the Northern Ireland energy market, we are naturally very concerned about the message these aggravated attacks are sending out about investment in Fermanagh.

"We are fully supportive of the PSNI and the Garda actions in preventing damage to property or injury to people and we hope that those responsible desist from further violent acts or threatening behaviour."

Separately, workers at Danish company Vestas, who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of windfarms in the area, have been warned to stay away from the projects.

Vestas confirmed the company had received a warning letter and said it is engaging with the relevant authorities.

The threats to Vestas emerged on the back of separate incidents including sabotage of trucks owned by QIHL.

A spokesperson for QIHL, where management includes former Quinn Group senior executives Kevin Lunney and Liam McCaffrey - said the activity would not "distract us from our drive to ensure that the company continues the strong growth which we have demonstrated in the first year.

QIHL, which is currently implementing a major investment plan, said it would not comment on the recent incidents, beyond noting them with "sadness and continued concern".

Sean Quinn Snr, once Ireland's richest man, has consistently condemned intimidation in the area.

Following a bus being burned out at the entrance to former Quinn Group businesses in early 2014, Quinn said: "I condemn these unlawful acts and... any persons carrying out such acts are not acting in my name."

Tensions have escalated in the border region, where the Quinn Group once dominated.

It is understood that differences emerged between Sean Quinn and his former lieutenants over Quinn's role at Quinn Industrial Holdings Limited (QIHL), which owns the packaging and building business that previously belonged to the Quinn Group.

A Facebook page entitled 'Concerned Irish Citizens', which is supportive of Mr Quinn and critical of QIHL, has recently appeared.

In response to a request for comment from this newspaper, CIC said: "We in Concerned Irish Citizens take this opportunity to unequivocally affirm that we do not condone any acts of vandalism, trespass, intimidation or indeed anything that disrupts the safety and rights of others.

"Our objective has always been to give a forum to the hundreds of people, employees, locals, landowners etc who contact us and whose safety and rights they feel are being infringed upon."

A spokesman for Mr Quinn said that he had been unable to reach Mr Quinn for comment in relation to the latest incidents.

The situation in the area has deteriorated dramatically from late 2014, when Mr Quinn was greeted by jubilant supporters at the Quinn group's old headquarters after Quinn Industrial Holdings completed the deal to buy back the building and packaging businesses from creditors who had taken control after the Group collapsed.

A smiling Quinn served drinks to supporters.

The Quinn Glass and Quinn Radiators businesses were not included in the deal. Quinn Radiators was later sold to Irish-owned investment group RHP Bidco, while Quinn Glass was sold to Spanish company Vidrala.

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