Tuesday 23 July 2019

Fine Gael and GAA distance themselves from Quinn family

Senior GAA figures march in support of Sean Quinn at Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, last weekend. Inset: yesterday's GAA statement and memo from Fine
Gael.
Senior GAA figures march in support of Sean Quinn at Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, last weekend. Inset: yesterday's GAA statement and memo from Fine Gael.
Bankrupt billionaire Sean Quinn

Fionnan Sheahan, Martin Breheny and Greg Harkin

FINE Gael and the GAA last night moved to distance themselves from public shows of support for the Quinn family.

The moves followed a backlash towards the rally last weekend in support of the bankrupt billionaire Sean Quinn, attended by several prominent GAA figures, which was then backed by a Fine Gael MEP.

Two former GAA presidents -- Sean Kelly, a Fine Gael MEP and Peter Quinn Snr, the brother of Sean Quinn Snr -- are at the centre of the controversy over the attacks on the handling of the Quinn affair.

The fallout from the rally in Cavan continues to reverberate across both the country's largest political party and largest sports organisation.

Fine Gael TDs were warned not to comment on the Quinn case and reminded they were "effectively Officers of the State" as members of the Dail, which passes laws.

The caution came after Mr Kelly, a Fine Gael MEP, aroused anger in the party with his comments that the 4,000 people at the march in Ballyconnell were giving "moral support" to the bankrupt businessman who owes the nationalised former Anglo Irish Bank €2.8bn.

Mr Kelly is said to be "damaged" within the party as a result of his expression of sympathy for the bankrupt businessman who is in breach of a High Court order.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny publicly rebuked Mr Kelly for his sympathetic comments towards the Quinn family.

"Sean Kelly has lost huge amounts of respect across the country among female politicians," a senior party figure said.

Fine Gael's press office also sent out a strongly worded note to all ministers, TDs, senators and MEPs warning them off commenting about the ongoing court case.

Contempt

"Regardless of whatever strong opinions you may hold about various cases, it is worth bearing in mind that commentary on a case that has not been finalised leaves you open to potential charges of contempt of court, and/or charges of having prejudiced a trial that is sub judice at that time," the memo said.

Party sources said the memo also appeared to cover the controversial case of Anthony Lyons, a businessman who had a sentence for sexual assault reduced to six months because he was paying his victim €75,000 in compensation.

But the timing of the warning in the wake of Mr Kelly's comments meant most TDs believe it was clearly in relation to the Quinn case.

The GAA has also distanced itself from the Quinn rally. Several well-known GAA personalities including three All-Ireland winning football managers -- Tyrone's Mickey Harte, former Armagh boss Joe Kernan and former Meath boss Sean Boylan -- along with All-Ireland winning footballer and RTE analyst Colm O'Rourke attended the rally.

At the rally a number of banners from local GAA clubs could also be clearly seen. In a rare move, the GAA issued a statement in response to the coverage of the rally, pointing out the organisation does not involve itself in non-sporting matters.

"The GAA is a non-party political organisation whose individual members may, of course, decide to take positions on a range of issues in accordance with their own personal views.

"As an association, however, it would be entirely inappropriate for the GAA to become involved in matters outside its remit," read the statement.

The GAA statement follows criticism of the association, which was portrayed in some quarters as aligning itself with the Quinns.

However, the statement makes it clear that, at official and senior level, the GAA is not taking a stance on the Quinn controversy, regardless of the links to family members.

Peter Quinn Snr, the former GAA president, is the father of fugitive Peter Darragh Quinn, who is in Northern Ireland avoiding a warrant for his arrest for contempt of court. His cousin, Sean Quinn Jnr, is currently serving a sentence in Mountjoy Prison.

Peter Quinn Snr said his son knew he was going to be jailed before a court hearing last week -- and chose to avoid doing time.

And the former GAA president said he supported his son's decision as he was "being set up".

"Firstly he is not a fugitive and secondly he is not on the run. He is living at home in Co Fermanagh where he always lived," he said.

Irish Independent

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