Garth Brooks upstaged by Quinn C&W farce in Cavan

A story with many elements of a good country song

One suspects investors’ experience in Cavan will be more damaging to our reputation than events around Garth Brooks in  Croke Park. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill	/The Irish Times

One suspects investors’ experience in Cavan will be more damaging to our reputation than events around Garth Brooks in Croke Park. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill /The Irish Times

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:00

If the Garth Brooks saga confirms anything about Ireland, it is that we are an unusual country. There has been a lot of hackneyed commentary about how we see laws as something to be broken and it is all the fault of our colonial oppressors blah blah blah. (That said, it is hard to fathom just what bit of the three-concerts-a year-limit on Croke Park Peter Aiken did not understand. )

But arguably the most preposterous statement is that by the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, that our international reputation has suffered irreparable damage.

This is quite an assertion regarding a country that managed to bankrupt itself three years ago and is now paying the lowest interest rate in the history of the State. If the international financial community can see past a bailout, the most ardent foreign country music fans can deal with a planning screw-up by a concert promoter.

Small-town politics

What they might find a little more troubling is events some 140km up the road in Co Cavan, where the packaging and construction supplies business of the former Quinn group look like being sold to the only buyer in town. It’s a story with many elements of a good country song: land, loyalty, prison time, gambling, bullets and, of course, trucks.

The Quinn Business Retention Company – an alliance of local businessmen and former Quinn management – has teamed up with UK private equity investor Endless to bid €90 million for the businesses. The assets are owned by Aventas, the holding company for the non-insurance assets of the Quinn group. Their bid – which has to be approved by the shareholders in Aventas – has local support, which is important given the febrile atmosphere up there since Sean Quinn’s creditors moved on him in April 2011.

The sense of loyalty to Quinn felt by some is so strong that it has boiled over into a campaign of intimidation and violence against the new managers and also any prospective buyers.

It is pure country. The bad guys are being run out of town. The only discordant note is that Quinn played no small part in wrecking Ireland through his gambling in Anglo Irish Bank shares. His subsequent behaviour, as his business collapsed, left him facing charges related to trying to put a foreign property portfolio worth hundreds of millions of euro beyond the reach of his creditors. His response has been to sue the State for €4.5 billion, saying his business was seized illegally.

However, all of this this seems to have done little to dilute the tacit support for Sean Quinn. Some 70 attacks have been carried out at former Quinn companies including a home-made car bomb being driven into a building full of workers. There have been death threats and arson attacks against prospective buyers Lagan Group and Ceva.

There is no suggestion any of the individuals in the QBRC are involved. They may well be unwitting beneficiaries as other potential buyers have thought twice. Theirs is the only offer on the table and some of the owners of Aventas – former bondholders in the Quinn Group and the liquidator of Anglo Irish Bank – believe their offer does not reflect full value.

In a normal bidding situation they might be expected to hold out for a higher price. But here they may be tempted to take the money and run. Selling the business to a buyer that does not enjoy local support has been made almost impossible.

The investors include the $3.2 billion hedge fund and private equity group Strategic Value Partners, global investment group Blackstone, the Prudential financial services group, and a US teachers’ pension fund. These are the same investors the Government is courting to buy Irish bonds, assets from Nama and set up operations in the IFSC. They have made their unhappiness known to the Government, who seem unwilling or unable to enforce the law in Cavan.

That is not a state of affairs they would expect to find in a competently run country. One suspects their experience will be more damaging to our reputation than events around Croke Park.

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