Nation's malaise visible in venom flung at Quinn

Sat, Aug 4, 2012, 01:00

The Irish are angry but also psychotically ill. Why else target a man who really did his best?

SO NO doubt I’m wrong about Seán Quinn. He has been sneaking around Cavan General Hospital stealing the incubators in the maternity unit and digging his greasy fingers in the moneybox in Barnardos.

At least that’s the impression I get from Fintan O’Toole’s neat equations about how this giant of industry has been carrying on. A man who I mistakenly thought had spent 40 years developing factories in Cavan and Fermanagh, with fewer grants than Fás would find for coffee breaks. And in counties which, up to recent years got precious little from Free State, semi-State or the wobbly British state except decades of ridicule for being so poor that they ate their dinners out of drawers.

Apparently Quinn was not a man trying to generate jobs at all in that depressed area. He was actually oppressing the people all around him. It’s funny how we get things wrong in Ireland. So wrong that we’re always divided regarding public figures.

Thirty years ago some intellectuals used to propagate the notion that two sides of the same drumlin were different countries with different cultures and imaginations. You either agreed with partition or you were against it. Either for Dev or Collins. For Haughey or FitzGerald.

Always split down the middle. For Roy Keane or against. For the Rossport Five. Against the fracking. It’s all black and white, and nothing stirs the Gaelic juice more than an enemy, a scapegoat, a bad bastard you can get angry with on some live radio talk show.

We’re a psychotic nation in the grip of negative rhetoric, suffering from a rage that has never been diagnosed. The Civil War in Ireland didn’t create divisions. It was merely another symptom of a very deep malaise.

We relish scapegoats like the English revere the queen or the French enjoy sex. We could have given the Dáil powers to go after the big business crooks in last year’s referendum but we preferred to have a toothless parliament and do the gnawing ourselves on the wireless. Maybe we are such a damaged, wounded and colonised little tribe that we don’t have the cultural or collective power to ever overcome that negative rage. Perhaps the Republic is just not viable as a spiritual or cultural entity anymore. We may need outside help for more than banking.

Even in culture, there are civil wars. I’m thrilled to be doing a gig in August at Cavan Fleadh with Eleanor Shanley where the great and amazing De Danann are on the bill. I told this to a friend recently and she said “which De Danann?” because apparently there are two De Dananns. The old one and the new one. And two Wolfe Tones. And half a dozen Sinn Féins. And as many republican armies as you’re having yourself. We just need to be against someone. So Seán Quinn has stepped into the limelight. He’s the bad guy and those who support him are deluded and so enthralled to his feudal lordship that they would kiss the rod that beats them.

I drove through Fermanagh on Wednesday and passed familiar landmarks. The house where an old couple were killed. The school where a teacher was shot. The shop where the dismembered body of a local was found in the fridge. The pub where a boy from Ballyconnell died because he recognised the eyes behind a balaclava. I passed the site of an old garage where an IRA leader was taken out by the SAS. But I saw all those blood-soaked fields now transformed because people voted for change, and played democracy intelligently. And all the while they worked for Seán Quinn.

I saw houses where people grew up poor, and vulnerable to a life of enslavement by the IRA or UVF but found they could earn a living and have a social life and fall in love and get married and have children and rear them in houses with two toilets and still have money to educate their own children. Liberation doesn’t come any crisper than that. And Seán Quinn put every sinew of his energy over 40 years into that process of development.

He is an ordinary man who showed leadership in his community. And to call him an oppressor or suggest those who admire him are kissing the rod that beats them is as jaundiced as an artist who once sneered at me and said, “Isn’t the Slieve Russell a pretentious name for a hotel in west Cavan?” I replied, “Russell is the name of the feckin’ mountain.”

To suggest that the support of Brian D’Arcy, a professional journalist with the BBC, a man hounded and victimised by the church, implies that the church supports Seán Quinn is a coat-trailing equation that old-time preachers in galvanised churches one hundred years ago would have been proud of.

Seán Quinn was reared on bread and jam, with the very poorest of creatures and he often wept at their graves on the slopes of Slieve Russell and the shores of Lough Erne. His mother was cross but clever and his siblings went to college but he just got the mountains and the meadows, all 25 acres, and no schooling after primary school. He passed his childhood playing football and driving tractors and his first teacher, Elizabeth Dunne, said before she died that he was the most popular cub ever darkened the school door.

One day his father darkened the door looking for Seán because the weather was good for hay. Ms Dunne said, “You can surely have him ‘cos he’ll not do anything for me.” They had been painting workers in the hayfields and Seán had his arms folded and half the page was green and the other half blue. And the teacher asked, “Where are the men making hay?” and Seán said, “Please Miss, it wasn’t ripe so they went home.” Whenever a baby died in his own extended family, it was Seán who brought home the little white coffin from Enniskillen or Belfast.

His father sold a bit of land to a gravel man one time and, after he died, Seán said, “I’m going to keep that land and sell the gravel”, and so he bought a lorry and his mother signed over the land and she did the phones for him as he began the business.

Elsewhere people were lying in ditches waiting to blow someone’s brains out, but from the start Seán Quinn would have no truck with them, and those who know the hidden history of the Troubles will agree that he never paid a penny of protection money though they sometimes burned his machinery. Which is ironic because there are those who will also say certain Irish banks along the Border in fear of being burned out were able to structure their equations smooth enough for money to slide into dubious causes, and grease palms that held Kalashnikovs.

Maybe he was never as clever as the bankers, though tragically he had a huge respect for Anglo-Irish. That’s the real story. D’Arcy nailed it in a question last weekend: “Were the accounts that Anglo-Irish presented to Seán Quinn authentic, audited, correct and honest?”

And suppose it was ever proven that Anglo-Irish offered Quinn false documents in its dealings with him. Suppose the accounts were all sly equations that hid the real situation in that bank. Would he be culpable then? If he believed them and they swindled him? Because even a dimwit peasant in trepidation of the master’s rod can see that Quinn didn’t destroy Anglo-Irish. Anglo-Irish destroyed Quinn, and the country. And for Quinn to be the target of the nation’s vitriol and venom says more about the nation’s disease than it does about Seán Quinn.

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