Thursday 17 October 2019

Martina Devlin: 'Kevin Lunney was abducted and tortured to create climate of terror... lawlessness is putting down roots in Quinn Country'

Photo: Quinn Industrial Holdings/PA Wire
Photo: Quinn Industrial Holdings/PA Wire
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Let's call things by their true names. Kevin Lunney wasn't assaulted or given a punishment beating. He was tortured. Terrorised. Fingernails pulled out, leg broken with an iron bar, face and neck slashed with a Stanley knife.

What happened to him was a visible and horrifying act designed to intimidate others. It's a mercy he's alive.

The hooded men who kidnapped him - acting with the audacity of people convinced the law will never catch up with them - are the kind who'd kill without hesitation.

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Why was he targeted - rammed off the road and bundled into the boot of a car, with his own vehicle torched?

Because he runs Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) - that's a given. And because some Quinn supporters resent the family's expulsion from the business they built up from scratch - that can't be ruled out.

The level of violence, the way it was orchestrated, its coercive intent, distinguish this case as sinister.

Attacks on business people have been carried out before, such as in 1987 when Dublin dentist John O'Grady (taken in error for his magnate father-in-law) had two fingertips chopped off by his republican kidnapper Dessie O'Hare.

But this snatch is particularly chilling. It terrifies. Deliberately.

Mr Lunney's abductors had the plan, place and equipment prepared and their savagery was meant to warn managers at QIH: "You could be next."

US-based bankers and bondholders due to attend aboard meeting this week stayed away, while others who had already arrived caught the first flight out. No wonder. A climate of fear has been created.

The 50-year-old chief operating officer at QIH was grabbed near the company's Derrylin HQ in Co Fermanagh, driven over the Border and forced to endure two hours of torment. Later, he was dumped on the roadside at Cornafean in Co Cavan.

Inevitably, managers at Quinn must feel vulnerable. If Mr Lunney can be spirited away in broad daylight, driving home from work, none of his colleagues can feel safe. Apparently, all sorts of threats were uttered during the father of six's ordeal, including that every bone in his body would be broken one by one. Can you imagine the level of fear that must generate in their families?

Senior staff are condemned now to look over their shoulders constantly, starting at any sudden noise. Every time someone goes to work, their loved ones must worry they won't come home. The toll this takes on mental and physical health is devastating.

No job is worth those stress levels.

Precisely what Mr Lunney's captors are banking on, of course. That managers will dread being caught up in the escalating violence in the Cavan-Fermanagh region - and will vote with their feet.

Gardaí and PSNI are cooperating but the community is silent. It doesn't mean people endorse what happened but they are reluctant - maybe scared of reprisals - to name suspects. Without leads, evidence and witnesses, police can do little.

The identities of at least the perpetrators must be known locally. But Garda Commissioner Drew Harris admits investigations into incidents in the area have been "difficult".

There are a number of reasons for this. "The famous/Northern reticence, the tight gag of place", as Seamus Heaney puts it in 'Whatever You Say, Say Nothing'. Also, a lack of "harmony", to quote Seán Quinn, between QIH and some former employees is problematic, although he called the violence "barbaric" and denounced it "totally".

As an aside, it's worth noting joint Garda and PSNI inquiries will be hampered in the event of a hard Brexit. Cross-Border arrest warrants will be tougher to obtain.

Hostility is directing this violence. We can see the anger is directed against the new order at QIH. What does it hope to achieve? The company's collapse? Sale of the businesses at a knockdown price? To whom?

An outsider won't step in and make an offer - these cases of intimidation are a deterrent. Come what may, if this campaign continues, jobs will be lost.

Waging a guerrilla operation against the new order is nothing new in the Irish experience.

In the 1700s and 1800s, cattle and sheep were maimed and slaughtered during agrarian disturbances. In time, the Whiteboys became more active, killing those involved in evictions and cutting out the tongues of suspected informers. We have previous here, my friends.

Mr Lunney's torture is part of an ongoing campaign against QIH since the company was restructured in late 2012.

A pig's head was dumped at an executive's home, bullets and a wreath were sent to a contractor, power lines were cut, a lorry and private car were burned out, roadside signs named directors as "traitors" and Facebook pages attacked staff.

Earlier this year, Mr Lunney's nose was broken in an attack in a Co Cavan café, while another executive had boiling water flung at him.

Mr Quinn still lives in the local community he put on the map. The founder of the Quinn Group built an empire spanning cement and glass to insurance, but lost it in a gamble on Anglo-Irish Bank shares. He and his son Seán junior were jailed in Dublin for contempt of court in a case involving assets hidden from creditors.

Mr Quinn has a great deal of support in the Border region, where his entrepreneurial drive created much-needed jobs in a neglected area. Public rallies were held in solidarity after he lost his businesses during the financial collapse.

Undoubtedly, he has suffered. But others are suffering because of him: his buccaneering at Quinn Insurance has left everyone paying higher premiums on all non-life insurance products.

Mr Quinn has condemned the abduction of a man he knows well - Mr Lunney once worked under him. He told Northern Sound radio that family members were saying: "We're going to take the flak for this," but he insisted they had nothing to do with it.

"This is the last thing we want," he said. "The people doing this, they're not doing it for the Quinns. If they don't know, they should know, this is going to damage the Quinns."

He said he was "pushed out" three-and a-half-years ago from QIH - a somewhat inflammatory phrase considering local friction - and noted "an awful lot of conflict" between the current directors and former employees. He urged QIH executives to meet the community rather than "employ solicitors to fight them".

A well-attended rally in support of Mr Lunney was held yesterday in Derrylin, where QIH workers showed how they felt about the intimidation. Such demonstrations matter. But it would also be helpful if Mr Quinn or a family member could more actively intervene to de-escalate tensions - because lawlessness is putting down roots in Quinn Country.


Irish Independent

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