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A Tale of Two Seáns — Quinn Gives Radio Interview

I met Seán Quinn once, and I found him an amiable, approachable sort of fellow with a good line in self-deprecatory wit.  He wasn’t slow to admit his own role in the financial disaster that overtook his companies and I liked him for his honesty.  He was a million miles removed  from the inflated, pompous fools like Seán FitzPatrick and AIB’s Brian Goggin, a man who once lamented on national TV that he’d get less than €2 million in salary that year.

What’s more, Quinn is spoken of around Cavan as a man without airs and graces, who was perfectly happy in the corner of some small pub playing penny poker with the locals and enjoying a few sociable pints.  That’s when he wasn’t busy being the richest man in Ireland, of course.  They say he always paid up on his poker debts, even if he lost fifty quid or more, and he’d always stand a round when his driver came to collect him.

Decent man, Seán.  One of our own.  It reminded me of the Richard Harris myth in Limerick.

I don’t know if you heard his  interview on Shannonside Northern Sound today.  I chanced across it on Newstalk, and I have to say it’s the most extraordinary mix of self-pity, arrogance, delusion and spin that you’re likely to hear this side of Bertie Ahern crying on the Six-One News.

Like all normal people, my first instinct was to feel sorry for this decent individual whose son is in jail.  That can’t be easy and as a father I felt my heart jump a little, in sympathy with a man who says his family mean everything to him.  He spoke of protecting his good name, and of how it means more to him than all the money in the world.  He spoke of how he built up his business and never owed any man.  He spoke of putting his wealth beyond the grasping reach of the corrupt bank, Anglo.

He very nearly had me, until I remembered that this is not Anglo pursuing him for three billion euros of our money.  This is IBRC, a  company set up to try and recover all the billions thrown away by Anglo and by Fingleton, including the money Anglo fraudulently lent to people  in order to prop up the value of their own shares.

He very nearly had me believing that a man who was once Ireland’s richest, and who ranked around 150th in the entire world for wealth, was somehow fooled and seduced into accepting a loan he didn’t understand.

Nearly, but then the less sympathetic side of me started asking uncomfortable questions.

Why is he calling himself and his family scapegoats?  Did he or did he not borrow this money in an illegal attempt to inflate Anglo shares?  Does he or does he not owe this money back to IBRC, a wholly State-owned company?  Is it not true that if IBRC fail to recover the money, it will have to be found through higher taxation or further cuts in services?

Why does he keep talking about Anglo, the hated bank that sank Ireland?  IBRC is not Anglo.  IBRC is trying to recover some of the money lost by Anglo in its numerous dodgy deals, including the money he owes to the Irish people.

Anglo, in Sean Quinn’s delusional world, was at fault for lending the €3 billion, not the Quinns for taking out those loans.  In other words, Quinn is looking for a fool’s pardon, in pretty much the same breath where he claims that his enterprise was the best company in the history of the State.  So which is it?  Was Seán Quinn an idiot or was he the best businessman the country has ever known?  He can’t have it both ways, except in Cavan where they regard him as a hero.  (I’ll resist all temptation to mention the shape of the old 50p piece and move right along from here).

Apparently oblivious to the carry-on of his fugitive nephew, Peter Quinn, Seán emphasises in the interview that he was never one to jump on an aeroplane and run away from trouble.  Seán claims to be a victim of an Anglo PR campaign, while at the same time talking about the court’s feelings, as if the judges made their findings about his activities based on how they felt when they woke up in the morning.

Listen to this for delusional talk:

We were retaining our own assets and they were moving illegally on these assets.  Obviously the court didn’t feel that way and the court felt that we had taken these assets illegally.

Wrong.  The court didn’t feel anything.  The court found as a matter of fact, on the evidence presented, that the Quinns had broken the law.

I think this is very revealing.  I think it betrays a widespread attitude in the border counties that the law is only slightly binding.  At no time does he acknowledge that the courts made findings of fact about him, his family and his companies.   Fact, not feelings.  Not prejudices.  Not assumptions — steel-grey facts that he has not denied, including the fact that he and members of his family tried to put assets beyond the reach of IBRC, and therefore beyond the reach of the Irish State.

During the interview, neither Seán Quinn nor the interviewer referred to the things Judge Peter Kelly had to say about a related case.  Let me quote him:

Never before have I seen such conduct on the scale demonstrated here nor with the deviousness with which this scheme has been operated.

The judge said that the Quinn family had operated a scheme that  reeked of dishonesty and sharp practice and that was designed to place assets out of reach.  In granting an injunction against Karen Woods, recently married to Seán Quinn Jr, the court heard that Ms Woods had received an annual salary after tax of €320,000 per annum since  April 2011 from the Quinns’ Russian associates.  Nice money.  Clearly, the Russians place a high value on Karen’s qualifications, though the courts take a rather less benign view.  The injunction prevented Karen from moving Quinn assets out of reach of their creditors, as if she would.

According to Seán, the media “have fell” hook, line and sinker for the Anglo story.   He hopes that the public will get the proper story in time.

Someone would need to point out to Seán that Anglo is no more, and that the “story” was actually a full-blown court case where all the facts were laid out and examined.  He appears to believe that the entire conflict is still a PR battle and this is where the delusional nature of his thinking becomes most apparent.

Here comes an uncomfortable fact for Seán.  It doesn’t matter what story the public get.  This is the High Court, his son is in jail, his nephew is on the run and he’ll do time himself if he doesn’t give the money back to the State.

That’s it.  Forget about PR campaigns.  Forget about drumming up public support.  The game is up.    Despicable though Anglo was, it didn’t cause Quinn’s problems.  He was the one who made all those appalling decisions, and if he really means what he says about his integrity and his good name, it’s about time he admitted the obvious facts instead of whingeing.

On a personal level, I can’t help but empathise with Seán Quinn, especially when he told the interviewer he was scared of prison, but he couldn’t leave it at that.  He claimed he never owed anyone anything, and that’s where I did a double-take.

Has he managed to separate Seán Quinn, the ordinary father, football player and hard worker from Seán Quinn, Ireland’s richest man?  Is that it?  Does he believe there are two Seán Quinns?

He doesn’t lead a high life, and I know that he’s fond of the odd poker game around Cavan at modest stakes. in modest pubs over a pint or two with old friends.  So maybe that’s what he has in mind when he says he owes nobody anything.  Maybe he means he always bought  his round and always paid his modest gambling losses after a friendly game of cards and a few pints.

But of course, that’s not the Seán Quinn the courts are interested in.  They’re talking about the other guy, who owes this State €3 billion and has no intention of covering his gambling losses, even if he has to go to jail.