Tycoon remains bitter about his downfall as he refuses to take the blame and claims he is the victim
You can’t visit Seán Quinn without being struck by where he lives. It’s a modern mansion. Trees stretch to the sky and the manicured avenue folds back on itself to give the effect of a long, meandering entrance. A toy garda patrol car blocks the archway leading to the gravelled yard where more toys are scattered. A vast lake shimmers metres from the house in the last of the evening light, and to the side the slopes of the golf course at the Slieve Russell, the four-star hotel that Quinn built in his heyday.
He steps out from a side door beside the kitchen and moves the plastic patrol car. The grandkids, he says, friendly and polite. He has 13 and he and his wife Patricia are on grandparent duty that evening. He looks well and healthy for his 75 years, dressed in a smart V-neck sweater and open-necked shirt.
He lost his €3.2bn fortune and his business empire, but as he leads the way into an enormous, spotless kitchen with ornate cream cupboards and an outsized dining table by the window taking in that stunning lakeside view, you think ‘things could be worse’.
But hold that thought. He sits down at that table, a hardback notebook and some documents neatly placed beside him. “Nobody is asking the right questions,” he says, in the opening minutes of what becomes a lengthy interview that is focused on how he has been wronged.
Over almost three hours, Seán Quinn rains down one allegation after another about those he claims “stabbed him in the back”.
He is most bitter about the former management team who ran his companies before they went bust and later joined a local business consortium to buy back what was left of his businesses: Liam McCaffrey, the chief executive of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) which has since been renamed Mannok; Dara O’Reilly, the finance officer; and Kevin Lunney, the chief operations officer who was kidnapped and beaten up by hired thugs demanding the directors’ immediate resignations from QIH and the dropping of court actions.
Three Dublin men were convicted of the crime directed by the local Border criminal Cyril McGuinness, aka Dublin Jimmy.
Kevin Lunney and four other directors continue to live under death threat since the attack in 2019, the culmination of an intimidating and violent campaign of more than 70 incidents of defamation, arson and sabotage.
Seán Quinn has condemned — repeatedly — the abduction and assault of Kevin Lunney as barbaric. But it seems that in his eyes, the directors are not the victims.
Referring to himself in the third person, Quinn says: “He is not what people think. He has not been responsible for all that is going on. He is not responsible for the abduction of Kevin Lunney. He is not responsible for all the sabotage. He is not responsible the 2pc levy (slapped on all insurance policies to make up for the losses caused by Quinn Insurance difficulties).”
He continues in this vein.
“So, you’re the victim?” I ask.
“I think so. I believe so,” he says.
Much of what he has to say is too defamatory to report. But victimhood is a recurring theme.
Seán Quinn was once Ireland’s richest man, who built a global manufacturing and property empire from a quarry in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, and kept it in the Border counties. Folklore had it that he shunned the high life to live beside his businesses in Ballyconnell — although he did have a private jet and a helicopter and still does have a swimming pool complex under his house. And everyone was reminded last week of one daughter’s €100,000 wedding cake, billed to a Quinn company.
Ironically, collective memories were jogged by the family’s attempts to be “forgotten” by having articles about them removed from Google’s search engine.
Quinn takes his beef right back to that disastrous gamble on Anglo Irish Bank shares via contracts for difference (CFDs) — the start of his downfall. Quinn lost €3.2bn, €2.8bn of that owed to Anglo. His insurance company incurred a massive fine for taking more than €280m from Quinn Direct to cover losses elsewhere.
Quinn reframes the CFD narrative.
“Had I anything got to do with that? Zero. Was I a fool not to... stop it and that? Yeah, I was.”
He pushes a document from his neat pile across the dining table and instructs me to read it. It’s a “notice of discontinuance of investigation into whether Seán Quinn participated in certain suspected proscribed contraventions of QIL (Quinn Insurance Ltd)”.
He talks with great bitterness about the financial regulator’s decision to place the insurer into administration in 2010 and claims this document as vindication of him. He contrasts his position with Kevin Lunney and Liam McCaffrey, who reached a settlement agreement with the Central Bank following an inquiry. No part of the case against them was about the collapse of the insurer.
Quinn is absolving himself of blame. He wants it pointed out that he “wasn’t responsible for the administration of Quinn Insurance which collapsed my company”. Yet in an interview with journalist Vincent Browne in 2013, he said: “The money I took out in 2007 and 2008 should not have been taken out, hands up I was wrong.”
In 2014, a local business consortium and Quinn’s old management team did a deal with American bondholders to buy back what was left of his manufacturing businesses. It was supposed to be Seán Quinn’s way back.
Three US hedge funds, Contrarian Capital, Brigade Capital and Silver Point, financed the deal.
Quinn’s old friends, veteran Northern Ireland businessmen Ernie Fisher and John Bosco O’Hagan, and John McCartin, then a Fine Gael councillor from Leitrim, formed Quinn Business Retention Company (QBRC). QIH — McCaffrey, Lunney and O’Reilly — operated the business.
The aim was to keep jobs in the community and that within a few years, Seán Quinn would be able to buy his business back — although Quinn disputes this.
Quinn claims the first “knifing” was when he found out in July 2014 that the glass part of the business — the bit he wanted most — would be sold separately.
He pushes another document towards me — an undertaking with the local Cavan Fermanagh Leitrim (CFL) “community group” stating that the businesses would “most importantly” be kept whole and not disposed of piecemeal.
“And not broken up, did you read that part?”
But he claims the management and the American bondholders decided to “do a job on Quinn”.
“They bought nothing,” he says.
But they did, I say, the manufacturing businesses.
“They bought nothing,” he insists.
Despite this alleged treachery, Quinn took a job with the new QIH as a consultant on €500,000 a year.
He says he was supposed to go in as “the boss” but when he got in there, he was “totally isolated. Totally”.
But Liam McCaffrey was the chief executive, I say.
“I had no problem with that,” he says, but adds: “I was the boss. I was the boss.”
That was not how the investors saw it. They had to be persuaded to let him in. In a letter to staff, the chair of the board of QIH, Adrian Barden, wrote that the management team — ie, McCaffrey and others — “advocated strongly for a consulting role for Seán Quinn and his son” and after careful consideration, they agreed.
Relationships nosedived rapidly.
Seán Quinn demanded an equity stake in the business and alleged fraud and inappropriate behaviour by the senior management team. Each allegation was investigated by a third party, and each was “proven completely false”, according to Barden’s letter of 2018.
“Throughout this period Seán was given every opportunity to take a more constructive path but failed to do so. In May 2016 the board and Seán Quinn mutually agreed to terminate his and Seán Jr’s consultancy agreement.”
Quinn claims he was “sacked” because he wanted an investigation into his allegations of fraud.
He is convinced that “getting rid” of him was always part of the plan.
A campaign of intimidation against the company intensified after he left. McCaffrey, Lunney and his brother Tony, Dara O’Reilly and John McCartin, were singled out for public vilification. The company took court action for defamation and appealed for a proper Garda investigation. Lunney’s kidnap, his torture — branded, doused with bleach and dumped on a roadside — came as an act of unexpected savagery.
Quinn initially says he is “not talking” about Dublin Jimmy, the “supervisor” of the attack, calling it “low-class journalism”. But later he says: “Course I knew him. Sure everyone knew Dublin Jimmy. Was I ever talking to him? No.”
I ask him what would Dublin Jimmy and three men from inner-city Dublin have to gain by carving QIH on Kevin Lunney’s chest, demanding the resignation of the directors and the dropping of legal actions on both sides of the Border.
“Why are you asking me? Why don’t you ask Kevin Lunney?”
He makes unprintable claims as to who was behind the sabotage on the company. So how does he know?
“From other people who were involved,” he says.
Did he do anything to stop it?
“Nothing. I wasn’t involved.”
Did he go to An Garda Síochána?
“I was never an informer. And I resisted that until January 2020 when these guys kept on going and going and going and telling lies about me.”
He made a formal statement to gardaí last year, alleging a litany of improper conduct against the company and various individuals. That was after John McCartin made a statement to gardaí about Quinn’s behaviour — extracts of which he also pushes under my nose.
“Read on,” he urges. McCartin accused Quinn of involvement in arson attacks and talked of “blood on the walls”. Quinn says the allegations are without foundation.
He is “surprised” at the slow progress of the investigation into his counter allegations. He thinks this is “because the narrative has been for the last 10 years that it’s all Seán Quinn’s fault, these (are) all great boys”, he says.
“Seán Quinn’s at fault for Quinn Direct, he was at fault for this, he’s at fault for this, he was at fault for everything, he’s at fault for the kidnapping, he’s at fault for everything, and we don’t want to change that narrative.”
Does he have any influence over what’s been happening?
“Of course I have.”
Could you have stopped the sabotage?
“If I go out and tell lies on behalf of Liam McCaffrey, John McCartin and these guys, it probably would never have happened,” he says. “But I’m not going to tell lies for all that they have done...”
He goes on to talk about the community being “knifed”.
But more than 800 people are still in their jobs.
“I had 8,000 in their jobs and they f**ked it up. They alone f**ked it up,” he scowls.
Quinn claims the Cavan Fermanagh Leitrim community group — a group of local Quinn supporters who have been accused by Mannok of spreading misinformation — plans to sue QBRC in Northern Ireland. “On the grounds that they were to buy the business and give it back to the local community and they didn’t do it. In fact, they gave shares to the management team,” he says.
He is not “a member” but supports them: “I will do anything I can do in my power to get those boys out.”
What does QIH have to do with CFL, as he calls it?
“CFL own it. It was bought for them,” he says, which seems a stretch as Quinn has been saying it was bought for him and his family.
He says he “would be happy if CFL had it, that’s fine. I don’t want it”.
“It’s just gone too far. I’m 75 years of age. I don’t want the business back, but I would like the truth to come out.”
Does he feel embittered by all of this?
To an unhealthy degree?
“No. I can sleep, I can watch television… When I talk about it, I am very strong, very sore and very angry,” he says.
By now, a couple of hours have passed.
It seems he doesn’t want to appear a man consumed and mentions that when he played cards the night before, “we were laughing and joking the whole night”.
“If you think I’m an angry man, no I’m not an angry man. Am I angry when I am talking about this? Am I angry with people who I know have written stuff about me? I do get angry but…”
He pauses and looks me in the eye: “You have written things about me which are not true.”
Tell me what’s not true, I ask, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says: “Even tonight, you’re absolutely convinced that I was wrong for the last 10 years. I am telling you that I have not been wrong.”
He then goes on to denigrate his former management team. When I challenge him, he says: “Now, you were not listening to what I was saying...”
If he doesn’t want his company back, what does he want?
“Vindication. A wronged party righted — not financially, but in the mind of the public. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve a million in the bank or a thousand in the bank when you die,” he says.
“Would you want to die as a rat? Or would you want to die as a gangster? Or would you want to die as someone who has stolen goods or taken goods that didn’t belong to them. I wouldn’t want to die as that person.”
He has taken part in a three-part documentary about his life, to be broadcast by RTÉ, in his attempt to “change the narrative”.
It is notable that his five children are not involved in his campaign of “vindication”. Last summer the children entered the battle, threatening to sue Mannok for a 22pc equity stake they claimed was rightfully theirs. But there has been no further correspondence and it appears they have retreated.
Quinn says his children “half like it and half not like it”, when asked if they support him. “They have all young families now. When we got into trouble, we had no grandkids. Now we have 13. They’d like to move on and start a new life, which is what they are doing.”
He has never once raised his voice, even though we are still disagreeing as he leads me past the kitchen island to the side door and into the gravel yard. But when he shakes my hand outside, he says: “I’m disappointed.”
He stands backlit in the doorway of his home and waves, his grandkids’ toys strewn about in the darkness, a gentle ripple on the lake just visible by the lights burning brightly from huge windows — the man who was once the richest in Ireland but who now wants the world to see him as the victim.
A spokesman for Mannok said: “Baseless allegations by Seán Quinn are now a perennial occurrence and only serve to undermine his condemnation of those engaged in intimidation and violence who evidently are sympathetic of his views.”