In the end, as the camera was trained on his weeping, expressive face, it was impossible not to feel some empathy for the fallen industrialist Sean Quinn.
After all, here was a man who built an empire from a combination of guts and gravel, openly shedding a tear as he reflected on his legacy and his life’s work.
It was a poignant end to Quinn Country, the excellent three-part documentary series on the former billionaire that was broadcast on RTÉ last week. But it also underlined one of the dominant motifs from the entire series: Quinn’s apparent lack of empathy for anyone but himself.
It takes a very singular personality to create what Quinn created, and it takes a very singular personality to lose it all in the way Quinn did. It demands an almost maniacal sense of one’s own capacity; to see opportunities where others see a barren landscape, and, in Quinn’s case, to maintain that sense of unfettered belief as it all erodes away.
Clearly, empathy is not a prerequisite for building and losing an empire.
Yes, Quinn was wonderfully loyal to his region, and, in turn, it was loyal to him. He brought much-needed jobs and prosperity to a deprived region, and that region, in turn, brought him great riches.
But his treatment of Liam McCaffrey, Dara O’Reilly, and Kevin Lunny – his three former lieutenants who sought to maintain those very jobs when Quinn’s businesses crumbled – is telling, and, in relation to his comments about Lunney’s abduction and torture, chilling.
Yes, Quinn has continually condemned the various attacks and incidents of violence that have been committed in his name. But equally, he has continued to criticise the individuals who suffered those very attacks. He has shown no empathy towards the victims of the violence, the intimidation, the sabotage.
Nor has he shown empathy for the hundreds of thousands of insurance policyholders who are still filling in the €1 billion black hole uncovered by court-appointed administrators at Quinn’s eponymous insurance company.
Instead, Quinn has sought to set himself up as the true victim; self-pity and historical revisionism flow like a river throughout the documentary series. And that self-pity and revisionism have been consistent themes since the world turned on Quinn more than a decade ago.
It has been there through Quinn’s constant assertions that his businesses were robbed from him in the first instance by the state. And it remains there in his insistence that it was robbed once again from him by his former proteges who, he believes, duped him.
However, the facts do not support this version of history. He lost his insurance business because he squandered numerous opportunities to restore some order to its balance sheet over many years. Faced with his intransigence, the Financial Regulator finally seized control. Quinn, for his part, never challenged the appointment of the administrators.
And it was there again when he lost control of his sprawling manufacturing business. Again, he was offered numerous chances by his bondholders to cut a deal that would have seen him retain control of his business, albeit he would have to pay a higher coupon on his interest bill and cede some equity. Again, he turned it down, forcing his bondholders to team up with Anglo and take it all.
Quinn has continually claimed he had a side deal to reclaim control of his business when a portion of it was bought by local businessmen. He even returned as a highly-paid consultant, before exiting after being accused by bondholders of trying to drive a wedge between management and shareholders.
It was there in his jailing for contempt almost exactly ten years ago, when he spurned orders of the High Court in relation to an outrageous scheme to hide €500 million in international property assets from a state-owned bank, a scheme Quinn sanctioned (although, as he said last week, one he did not conceive).
And it was there last week when he highlighted in his interviews that the shares in Anglo were in fact bought by his children and were never in his own name. This is accurate of course, but no one, not even his children, has ever argued that they were directing operations, or were fully aware of what was going on at the time. In fact, they lost a pre-trial application in their lengthy High Court battle with IBRC to argue that they were under the undue influence of their father.
The comments he made about “betrayal” in the documentary are in keeping with his statements over the years. In November 2021, shortly after three men were convicted for the abduction and torture of Kevin Lunney, he gave an interview to Channel 4 where he condemned the attacks, but was scornful of what Lunney and his business partners had supposedly done to him.
“The locals are also very angry about what they’ve done to me, throwing me out the gate, giving me nothing, sacking me. They’re very, very angry,” he told the British television station. Again, like in Quinn Country, the interview was conducted in his lakeside mansion.
He doubled up days later with an extraordinary interview with The Irish News when he suggested that anyone in the area could have carried out the various attacks.
“Look, look if there is one thousand people angry, it only takes one or two of them,” he said. “All of the farmers wouldn’t p**s on these boys if they were on fire. Not a farmer in the area or member of CFL [Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim Community Group established to support Seán Quinn] if they meet on the street would speak to these guys.”
Again, there is no evidence, save Quinn’s word, to support any of this. But Quinn is clearly entrenched in his bitterness over how things played out.
I discuss a number of these issues in a podcast with Dion and Tom this weekend, while John Burns has reviewed Quinn Country also.
Having charted Quinn’s demise for more than a decade now, it was impossible not to be impressed by the scenes where Quinn walked around a region that he shaped and helped build.
But it was equally hard not to be shocked at his sense of victimhood.
Elsewhere last week, I interviewed the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe at a public event organised by Cantor Fitzgerald and The Currency. Open and engaging, Donohoe talked about the economic outlook for next year, corporation tax reform, and the current tech slide, as well as his learnings in the Department of Finance.
Joe Schull is a former Warburg Pincus dealmaker who wants to redefine private equity. He spoke to Tom about his investment philosophy; why his fund, Corten Capital, has bought a majority stake in Ekco; and where the Irish firm plans to go next.
Senior banker Antoinette Dunne has just been appointed chair of Capitalflow, the Irish alternative lender led by Ronan Horgan. The pair talked to Tom about Capitalflow’s expansion plans, disrupting the banking landscape, and the impact of rising interest rates on lending.
The fallout of rising costs in the construction industry was highlighted yet again in two stories last week. Rosanna reported that crane company Windhoist had four big contracts all due for completion in a matter of months. However, with no cash and no financing available, it has run out of road.
Meanwhile, rising construction costs brought homebuilder Blacklough to the precipice. However, as Francesca reported, renegotiated contracts and the pipeline of projects under the government’s Housing for All scheme could help pull it back from the edge.
New information from multiple subsidiaries of the two digital advertising giants Meta and Google in Ireland reveals how they operate in the post-double Irish world and how ready they are to take on the industry slump. Thomas had the detail.