Cross-border arsonist paid €20,000 a time for 70 attacks on Quinn firms
Gardai were also targeted by the criminal believed to be behind torture of Kevin Lunney, writes Maeve Sheehan
Late one night in February 2014, in Bawnboy, Co Cavan, a garda was awoken from his sleep by a noise outside his bedroom window. He ignored it but seconds later a loud bang followed.
He looked outside to see his car ablaze. The flames were licking a second car parked beside it on the driveway and fanning upwards toward the roof of his house. The whole building was within seconds of catching fire when the emergency services arrived, according to sources close to the investigation.
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The attack on a serving member of the force in the rural Border hinterland was menacing. The suspect was a cross-border smuggler whose signature act of terror was torching cars on driveways and other varieties of arson.
His usual targets were the businesses straddling the Border towns of Ballyconnell and Derrylinn that once belonged to the local former billionaire, Sean Quinn. The vast industrial plants had been under relentless attack since the fallen tycoon had lost control of his empire to the former Anglo Irish Bank in 2011. A favourite form of attack was rigging vehicles with flammable substances and driving on to the premises.
Gardai had intelligence that the criminal pocketed a fee of €20,000 per attack from a "paymaster", according to informed sources - €5,000 for himself and the rest shared among the thugs he recruited to carry out the attacks. It was lucrative work for the criminal, costly for his paymaster. Using those figures, the 70 or so incidents and attacks logged by the Quinn companies in eight years set the paymaster back a cool €1.4m.
The garda lived in Bawnboy but his beat was Ballyconnell. His duties included patrolling the sprawl of Quinn buildings and yards on this side of the Border.
Weeks before his car was torched, he had crossed paths with associates of the cross-border criminal while on patrol. Word came back after the attack that the criminal was out to teach the garda a lesson.
The garda's colleagues were outraged and local people were concerned. The then chief superintendent launched a high-level investigation. The Regional Support Unit was sent to Ballyconnell and armed gardai conducted high-visibility patrols around the area.
But the reassuring presence of gardai failed to deliver up the information needed to solve the case.
Along with guns and baseball bats, fear is a key weapon in the Border criminal's arsenal.
Gardai had significant intelligence that he was responsible, informed sources said. But they could not translate it into evidence, even enough for an arrest.
The Regional Support Unit moved on after a week. The investigation lost momentum and the garda ended up requesting a transfer out of the area.
He was not the only officer targeted by the same Border criminal.
He was also the prime suspect for an arson attack in 2013 at the home of a second garda in the county who crossed his path. Tractors in the officer's yard were set alight in the dead of night, in the criminal's signature style. The culprit was never caught.
Gardai point to the difficulties of gathering evidence. The criminal has taunted gardai from just across the Border and, according to one security source, the biggest block to him being brought to justice is his threatening presence in the region, enough in itself to silence communities.
He is thought to be a colluder with former members of the Provisional IRA and dissident republicans, and is believed to be capable of ruthless violence. He is suspected of involvement in the punishment shooting of one of his own associates when gardai intercepted their stolen goods.
"He will not meet you toe to toe. He will come at you from behind," said a Garda source.
When Quinn's former management team took over the businesses, he was a suspect for organising the increasingly violent intimidation of its five directors: Kevin Lunney, Liam McCaffrey, Dara O'Reilly, Tony Lunney and John McCartin, who helped secure the US investors who backed them.
have personally endured death threats, a pig's head being left on a doorstep, and cars being torched, as well as a vicious and defamatory hate campaign on Facebook. It was strangely taken down just days after Kevin Lunney was abducted and tortured on September 17. The paramilitary-style punishment attack on him was as unexpected as it was savage.
He was beaten with bars, slashed on the face and neck with a Stanley knife, had his leg broken in two places and was doused in bleach before being dumped on the roadside. His captors chillingly warned him that he and his fellow directors would be shot if they did not resign from Quinn Industrial Holdings.
A suspect for organising this savagery is the Border criminal, a man who, according to Garda sources, works for money.
Sean Quinn, the man in whose name the attacks have been carried out in the past, has again condemned the violence.
He described the attack on Mr Lunney as "barbaric" on local radio and went on to remark that he would be blamed for it.
One of several lines of inquiry is that the Border criminal may have orchestrated the attack to "set up" Mr Quinn, according to Garda sources. Although why they think that he might go to such brutal and risky lengths to make Mr Quinn look bad is not clear.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has deployed resources to the investigation and an armed response team to the Border. He warned against "bigging up" this gang of vicious individuals who are not above the law and did not accept that QIH and Border communities had been failed by gardai.
Some might weigh the handful of attacks on gardai against the trauma endured by Kevin Lunney and the Quinn directors. But if gardai cannot protect their own, how can they be seen to protect the public?
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) is mindful of the horrific violence endured by Mr Lunney, and the years of ongoing attacks and intimidation experienced by all of the Quinn directors.
"From a representative perspective, our primary focus is the safety and welfare of members, their families and their property.
"It is unacceptable that any citizen would be the victim of such sinister attacks or intimidation," said James Morrisroe, GRA spokesman for the Cavan/Monaghan division.
"We would feel that there is a particular onus on the State to take appropriate measures when our members become the victims of crimes simply as a result of choosing a career of service to their community and the State.
Members of An Garda Siochana are no less likely to be the victim of a crime and as such should be afforded the same protections and services as any other victim.
"It is the view of the GRA that providing a robust policing response as has been seen recently is not as favourable as a permanent properly staffed and equipped policing service.
"There is no doubt in the minds of the members that I represent that personnel reductions and redeployment of members away from local communities in recent years has had a negative impact on the effectiveness of policing. These flawed policies have created a vacuum that can be exploited by cross-border criminals."