Support for shameless Quinn is misplaced

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

TAKE ALL the money raised this year by the cuts in child benefit. And from cutting the school clothing and footwear allowance. And all the cuts to jobseekers’ benefit, rent supplement and fuel allowances for the elderly.

Throw in the restriction of one-parent family allowance to children under seven. Pile on all the cuts in back-to-education allowances and community employment schemes. Take all of that money from the pockets of the poorest people in Ireland this year and you still haven’t reached the amount Seán Quinn agrees he owes the Irish taxpayer.

This is nothing to do with the €2.3 billion he borrowed from Anglo Irish Bank to buy its shares. This is the €455 million he borrowed to buy property – using that property as security. In all the noise and distraction, this much is undisputed: Quinn borrowed the money and put up the property assets as collateral. The State, however idiotically, took over that loan. Since Quinn can’t pay it back, the Irish people now own those properties.

There is something else that is not in dispute: that Quinn is openly, flagrantly and quite proudly trying to hang on to this money that belongs to us. As he said on Sunday, he took a “very conscious decision” to do “everything in our power to take as many assets as we could”. The basic intention is very simple – to transfer assets from the Irish people to the Quinn family.

Thus, for example, the status of Karen Woods, a part-time receptionist with Joe Duffy Motors in north Dublin, as recipient of one of the largest public salaries in Ireland. The lucky Karen, then the girlfriend (now the wife) of Seán Quinn jnr, was paid €320,297 after tax (the equivalent of at least €400,000) last year by a Russian company whose assets belong entirely to the Irish people.

This is more than twice what the Taoiseach is paid, with the added refinement that there is no evidence of what work Woods does in return for this salary. Every cent she got, and every euro of the €455 million, is money kept from a State that is, for example, struggling to provide services for young people with intellectual disabilities.

At the same time, but completely separately, every Irish person or business who takes out home, motor or commercial insurance is having to pay the price, quite literally, for Seán Quinn’s mismanagement of his insurance business.

For at least the next 12 years, every time any of us takes out insurance, we will have to pay an extra 2 per cent to recoup the approximately €1.1 billion Quinn lost in his gamble on Quinn Insurance. Thus, even when we leave aside entirely the €2.3 billion Anglo loan, Quinn’s actions are siphoning €1.5 billion from Irish taxpayers, consumers and businesses.

All of this is easy enough to understand. It is underpinned by one of the oldest of human desires, the lure of other people’s money – in this case ours.

What’s more difficult to fathom is the collusion of many respectable people in what Quinn is doing. His shamelessness is made possible by those who tell him that he has nothing to be ashamed of, that, on the contrary, he is the victim in all of this.

Why would 4,000 people turn out in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, the other night to demand “justice” for the Quinns – though evidently not the kind of justice that would be meted out to someone who deprived the State of €4,550 instead of €455 million?

Why, for example, has Sinn Féin, supposed friend of the downtrodden, expressed its sympathy for Quinn (MP Michelle Gildernew tweeted her support)? Does it see no connection at all between his stripping of public assets and, for example, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin’s complaints about cuts at Cavan General Hospital? How can Sinn Féin demand, as it does, that no one should be paid more than €100,000 a year from public funds while apparently being content for the public to pay Karen Woods four times that?

Fr Brian D’Arcy, who is supposed to be in the morality business, addressed the Ballyconnell rally and essentially credited Quinn with the creation of peace in our time: “He brought peace to the country by creating thousands of jobs.”

Senior GAA figures such as Mickey Harte, Jarlath Burns, Seán Boylan and Colm O’Rourke threw that organisation’s considerable authority behind Quinn’s outright defiance of the courts and determination to hang on to public money. Thus, a formidable if unofficial nexus of Sinn Féin, the GAA and the church is giving Quinn comfort.

This desire to kiss the rod inflicting the pain is surely rooted in something older than the current fad for designer masochism – some twisted notion of ethnic and religious solidarity in which Quinn has to be protected because he’s one of us – a Catholic, nationalist, GAA man.

It can’t be imagined that our oppressors might go to Mass, wear open-necked shirts and support the GAA. But what can’t be imagined either are the silent victims in all of this – the poor who pay for their master’s gambles.

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