Wednesday 16 October 2019

Kevin Lunney attack Q&A: Who are the suspects and what are the chances of justice?

Kevin Lunney (Quinn Industrial Holdings/PA)
Kevin Lunney (Quinn Industrial Holdings/PA)
Incident: A garda on the road where Mr Lunney was found
Investigation: Members of the PSNI near a laneway leading to the home of Kevin Lunney. Photo: Damien Eagers

Andrew Lynch

Last week’s savage attack on QIH executive Kevin Lunney lifted the lid on a violent vendetta that has cowed many local people into silence as they worry about what might happen next.

Why is there such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation around the Irish border?

Because it’s now clear that some extremely dangerous people are running an orchestrated terror campaign against Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

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The whole country has been shocked by last week’s savage attack on chief operating officer Kevin Lunney, a 50-year-old father-ofsix who, in the words of one police chief, was “beaten to within an inch of his life”.

Feelings have been running high in the area ever since local man Sean Quinn lost control of his business empire eight years ago – and there is widespread concern that the next violent incident could be even worse.

What exactly happened to Mr Lunney?

At 6.40pm on September 17, he was returning to his home near Derrylin, in Co Fermanagh, when a stolen BMW ran him off the road.

He was seized by a group of masked men, driven across the border to Co Cavan and tortured in a horsebox for around two hours.

The thugs broke Mr Lunney’s leg in two places, slashed him several times with a Stanley knife, cut off some of his fingernails and carved the letters QIH into his chest.

He was then stripped and had bleach poured over him to destroy any DNA evidence before being dumped on the side of a road.

Mr Lunney is currently recovering in hospital, where his injuries are said to be life-changing.

Who is suspected of carrying out the attack and what might their motive have been?

Gardai believe that the gang was hired and at least a dozen people were involved, some with links to dissident republican groups.

Mr Lunney’s tormentors told him they were delivering a message to him and the other executives at QIH: resign or you will all be shot dead.

They also claimed they were behind an anonymous letter sent to the company last May, which threatened to find “a permanent solution” for five named members of its management team.

So this terrible crime hasn’t come completely out of the blue then?

No, although it is far more vicious than anything up to now.

In fact, there have been more than 70 examples of intimidating actions against QIH since 2012, including firebomb attacks on property, bullets sent through the post and even a pig’s head left outside one staff member’s house.

Mr Lunney himself had his nose broken during an attack in a Cavan cafe earlier this year, while a colleague was scalded with boiling water.

On Facebook, meanwhile, anonymous trolls have compared QIH bosses to Oliver Cromwell and the Shankill Butchers – prompting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to warn that the social media giant “needs to review its community standards”.

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Incident: A garda on the road where Mr Lunney was found

Why are some people so upset that Sean Quinn is no longer in charge?

Because he remains a folk hero to many in the area.

Mr Quinn left school at the age of 15, borrowed £100 to start a gravel-washing operation and eventually became Ireland’s richest man with a fortune of around €4.5bn.

He developed a huge network of cement, insurance and hotel companies, creating more than 5,500 jobs in a region that has often suffered from high unemployment.

Unfortunately, Mr Quinn was also a terrible gambler.

He borrowed heavily from Anglo Irish Bank to invest in its shares and had his businesses seized by creditors when the property bubble burst.

As well as declaring bankruptcy, Mr Quinn served a nine-week jail sentence in 2012 for trying to put some of his foreign assets beyond reach – with the judge calling him “blatant, dishonest and deceitful”.

Sean Quinn.jpg
'Barbaric': Seán Quinn said ‘anybody with any sense or morals’ would condemn the attack on Kevin Lunney. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Hasn’t that destroyed his reputation?

Not for everybody.

Despite living in a 14,700 sq ft mansion and owning a corporate jet, Mr Quinn never lost his image as a man of the people who enjoyed playing cards for coppers with old friends and was actively involved with the GAA.

A number of rallies were held to support him when his troubles struck, attracting well-known faces such as Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte and outspoken priest Father Brian D’Arcy.

Does Mr Quinn have any connection now with the people who took over his businesses?

No. There seemed to be a reconciliation in 2014 when the newly restructured QIH hired him as a consultant with a reported salary of €300,000.

However, the relationship turned sour again and Mr Quinn left in 2016 complaining that he had been “stabbed in the back”.

How does Mr Quinn feel about the brutal campaign against his successors?

In fairness to him, he has completely condemned it.

Speaking on Shannonside radio last week, he described the assault of Mr Lunney as “barbaric”, saying: “You wouldn’t do that to a dog.

Mr Quinn’s family, meanwhile, released a statement that read: “The people carrying out these despicable acts are not doing so for our benefit in any shape or form and we are totally against this type of activity.”

What has the security response been like?

It depends who you ask. QIH staff are said to be unhappy with An Garda Siochana’s attitude up to now and feel the threats against them haven’t been taken seriously enough.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has rejected this, insisting that every incident has been fully investigated and promising that a new armed support unit will become operational along the border next week.

That’s not enough for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who has called for a new “statutory cross-border multi-disciplinary agency” to “root this evil out”.

What are the chances of Mr Lunney’s tormentors being brought to justice?

Gardai seem confident that they are closing the net. They have recovered forensic evidence from the horsebox where Mr Lunney was taken and circulated a description of the white van used to transport him.

Understandably, however, many local people feel too scared to give evidence and QIH executives will be even more frightened until arrests are made.

The mood was perfectly summed up by Derrylin priest Father Gerard Alwill in his sermon last Sunday: “In the name of God, stop – before somebody gets killed.”

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