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A settlement might be best option for all before Anglo-Quinn fight gets really dirty

I ONCE crossed swords (words, actually) with Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman. No hard feelings, of course, we just enjoyed some extra judicial, colourful differences on media coverage of the courts in general and the Supreme Court in particular.

I don't always agree with Judge Hardiman's views, on or off the bench, but his role on the Supreme Court -- often as a sole dissentient -- is critical.

Earlier this week, Judge Hardiman issued a potentially game-changing minority report in the Sean Quinn Jnr appeal.

Four of his colleagues dismissed Sean Jnr's appeal against his conviction and three-month sentence for contempt -- for breaking court orders not to interfere with the Quinn family's €500m strong international property group.

Judge Hardiman would have allowed the appeal in its entirety.

Although he did not, on this occasion, carry his colleagues with his legal reasoning, Judge Hardiman's depiction and analysis of the cancerous litigation between the Quinn family and the former Anglo Irish Bank was sublime.

And, along with the jailing of Sean Quinn Jnr -- the threat of even more trips to Mountjoy hang over eight members of the Quinn family -- Judge Hardiman's observations may just accelerate the prospect of an out-of-court deal between the two sides.

In his ruling, Judge Hardiman said that the litigation to date has been fought on both sides with "extraordinary bitterness", each camp believing that the other side has perpetrated "grave injustices" against it.

The Quinns believe the bank duped them into an illegal deal to borrow money to prop up the bank's share price.

The IBRC (formerly Anglo) says the Quinns, largely as a result of their father Sean Quinn Snr's audacious/disastrous €3bn bet on then-Anglo's shares, have defaulted on their debts and therefore have to pay up and hand over all the overseas assets they attempted to put beyond the bank's reach.

If only it were that simple.

Part of the Anglo-Quinn saga may unfold in the forthcoming criminal prosecutions of three former Anglo executives, including its former chairman Sean FitzPatrick.

But the greatest opportunity for a proxy banking inquiry lies in the Quinn family's civil action against the IBRC.

In that action, the Quinns claim that €2.3bn in loans extended to them were made for illegal purposes, to manipulate the bank's share price as those very shares tanked.

The new management team at the IBRC, including chief executive officer Mike Aynsley and head of specialised asset management Richard Woodhouse -- the man trying to undo the overseas asset transfers -- can hardly be faulted for what transpired before the bank was nationalised.

But as successor to Anglo and its liabilities, the IBRC executive is in the tricky position of defending the bank.

Any public airing of all that dirty linen is bound to cause huge discomfort.

It is hard to feel sorry for the Quinn family in light of explosive revelations in recent months, not least that many were drawing huge salaries from the international property group, despite court orders banning any interference with their property empire.

But Judge Hardiman was correct to point out that while the Quinns have questions to answer "in legal proceedings and perhaps otherwise" -- hinting that they may also end up facing criminal charges -- the bank also has questions to answer.

The IBRC is enjoying both a litigious advantage and a publicity advantage at present. As long as the focus is on the Quinn family and the prospect of them going to jail, it does not have to answer, for now, questions about its own conduct.

That is why the prospect of a mediated settlement, aired in the High Court yesterday, is gaining quiet traction.

The IBRC can't be blamed for doubting the Quinn family's good faith and may regard claims that they are at their wits' end as a ploy.

Equally, the Quinn litigation must be highly stressful for the bank, the public purse and whatever reputation remains of Ireland Inc.

A settlement may be a bitter pill for all to swallow -- the alternative doesn't taste too good either.

Irish Independent