Mick Mulholland’s Political Notebook - Sean Quinn debacle

We are into the silly season right enough! And it is a little on the dark side.

We are into the silly season right enough! And it is a little on the dark side.

What is one to make of the Quinn business debacle, with an estimated 4,000 people turning out in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, recently in favour of the company’s patriarch, Sean Quinn, and the family ?

Some of those present were the great and the good who have been happy in the past to lecture various institutions on their moral responsibilities.

One can understand, on a human level, an expression of sympathy for a family under siege. Nobody wants to see any group of people hitting hard times, with one member of the family in jail.

And it is true that the Quinn family did provide jobs in the border region for many years. Those jobs were needed. As all jobs are. But they were provided by Ireland’s one-time richest family because their operations needed a wokforce.

The Quinn debacle transcends human emotions. The blunt reality is that the Irish people are picking up the bills for a company that stretched itself much too far and contributed to the awful economic situation that is daily confronting this country.

The human statistics are rattled out almost weekly. Some young parents are skipping on food simply to pay the expenses associated with their children returning to school.

That is a recent grim statistic to emerge. It can be placed next to all the other statistics that tell the human cost of The Economic War.

That, and that alone, is the context in which the Quinn debacle must be viewed.

A legitimately established court of this land recently granted orders freezing the bank accounts of some members of the Quinn family.

The judge involved – the highly respected Mr Justice Peter Kelly - said it seemed that the Quinns had deliberately created and operated a scheme to put assets beyond the reach of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly Anglo-Irish Bank.

If any other Irish citizen was involved in that kind of carry-on, would they have a few thousand people gathering at a rally to express support? Very unlikely.

What, by the way, if it was a politician? Would the vast majority of people not be remarking that the body politic continued to stink from the high heavens?

Sean Quinn and his family were truly wealthy by any standards. They were doing very well indeed. And nobody begrudged them their wealth.

Sean Quinn, it appeared, lived a modest lifestyle. True, there were celebrity weddings, but that could have been attributed more to the interest of the media than an indication of a family flaunting its considerable wealth.

So what went wrong?

An economic downturn which made the business less viable? The vagaries of the business world which made an earnest management encounter challenging times which were none of its fault ?

We know only too well it was none of that.

Not satisfied with its considerable wealth, the company borrowed €455 million from Anglo to expand its property portfolio.

It used property as collateral in this major gamble. The economy went into a massive downturn, caused mainly by the property bubble.

The company cannot pay its debts. And as the wretched Anglo-Irish Bank is now State-owned, the Irish people have been handed the substantial bill.

To suggest that Mr Quinn and his family are some kind of victims is absolute nonsense.

The hapless householders, who bought family homes at the height of the Celtic Tiger, and are now struggling to pay absurdly high mortgages as they struggle in negative equity, must wonder about one law for some and another for them.

One of the disturbing aspects of the Ballyconnell rally was the attempt to imply that the GAA is supporting Mr Quinn and his family. Mr Quinn went so far in his address to the crowd to thank “the whole GAA country’’.

The GAA has a proud and noble history in this country. Indeed it could be argued that it is the last great Irish institution with its honour largely intact at a time when other giant institutions have taken a tumble in terms of public esteem.

Mark Duncan and Paul Rouse, co-authors with Mike Cronin of “The GAA: A People’s History’’, have put it all in context. They have made it clear that the “dishonest Quinn agenda’’ was well wide of the GAA ethos.

They observed that the judge in the court proceedings had noted that the actions of the Quinn family were “as far removed from the concept of honour and respectability as can be”.

Yet a former GAA President, Sean Kelly, could assert that it was part of the ethos of the GAA to get behind “a decent family’’ and to stand “by our own’’.

Mr Kelly was elected by voters in the South constituency to the European Parliament.

Many of those who voted for him are, no doubt, struggling, one way or another, with the economic turmoil that abounds throughout the country.

They are acutely aware of the role Anglo-Irish Bank played in the downturn.

The courts will eventually adjudicate on the Quinn debacle.

The dark silly season carry-on surrounding this sorry episode in business history is, to put it mildly, hard to take.