BusinessAny Other Business

Hard to foresee Seán Quinn ‘fading into the shadows’ after book release

Any Other Business: Forbes resigns directorship, Lucy Gaffney and slavery reparations, and Fine Gael’s fundraising efforts in Cork

The year was 2004, and the scene a VIP box at Cheltenham racecourse during the annual festival. Seán Quinn wanted to buy Dermot Desmond’s shareholding in Barlo, a quoted company that made radiators and plastic sheeting. “I agreed to meet Dermot in his hospitality box, while Albert Reynolds, the former taoiseach, and Charlie McCreevy, a former minister of finance, were visiting him,” Quinn writes in a new book, In My Own Words. “Reynolds and McCreevy encouraged us to meet halfway between the asking price and what I was prepared to offer, and we sealed the deal in a few minutes.” A revealing throwback to how business deals were done during the Celtic Tiger era.

Quinn says he found Desmond to be “a very honourable man”. The financier did have an unusual way of greeting the Fermanagh businessman, however. One time “he addressed me as ‘the man they couldn’t hang’.” Quinn asked: “Have they been trying?” Desmond is said to have replied: “Yes, they have.”

“I thought he was joking,” Quinn reflects, “but maybe he knew more than I thought at the time”.

Another man with an idiosyncratic way of greeting people was Bertie Ahern, whom Quinn first met in about 1987, “when he was already an ambitious young politician”. They bumped into each other at Quinn’s pub in Drumcondra before a GAA match.


“How are you, young Quinn?” Ahern asked. Taking this rather literally, Quinn huffs that it was “as if I was a 20-year-old; in fact I was older than him”.

The businessman came to admire Bertie, however, and defends the former Fianna Fáil leader’s record. For example he was “ridiculed” for building too many houses in the new millennium, Quinn claims, “but where would we be now without them?”

The former billionaire also gives his side of the legendary meeting with representatives of Anglo Irish Bank at the Ardboyne Hotel in Navan in September 2007. It was here he dropped the bomb on David Drumm and Seán FitzPatrick that the Quinn Group controlled 25 per cent of the bank’s shares through contracts for difference (CFDs). With Anglo’s share price on the slide, the CFD bets were starting to make losses, and brokers were asking Quinn to make up the difference.

“We had no further funds available to support the margin calls,” Quinn says. “They appeared shocked at the revelation, and they asked me what my intentions were.”

The Anglo pair told Quinn his CFD holding was much too high, and if it became known to the market it would collapse Anglo’s share price. “They asked me if I would reduce our holding to single digits when the share price recovered, and I agreed to do so,” he says. “They headed off in their cars and stopped at the County Club, where they decided that they would tell their board and all relevant government agencies about our shareholding.”

But Anglo executives actually had a cunning plan, according to Quinn. They didn’t want him to start selling the CFDs; knew that the Quinn Group’s level of borrowings was low; and therefore Anglo could lend him money to pay the margin calls, thereby protecting their share price. “Whether or not they had discussed this with the [financial] regulator or the Central Bank in advance of that meeting, I have no idea,” he says.

Quinn adds, ruefully, that “now the scene was set for our destruction, as there is no argument as to what happened subsequently”. Indeed not.

Regrets, he has a few – including building “far too big” a house in the mid-noughties. “I now wish that I had the money it cost at the time.”

Quinn says he feels a weight has been lifted off his shoulders after finishing his book, however. “Now, in my 70s, I can fade into the shadows, knowing that my story is out there.”

Fade into the shadows? Hard to foresee. A sequel seems a lot more likely.

Forbes resigns as director of piano competition

Dee Forbes has resigned as a director of the Dublin International Piano Competition – in the first indication that the former director general of RTÉ may be planning to, ahem, scale down her involvement in civil life. Forbes left RTÉ at the height of the Ryan Tubridy pay controversy, and did not attend any of the subsequent Oireachtas hearings, citing ill health. A change of directorship at the triennial piano competition, whose patron is President Michael D Higgins, was notified to the companies office on August 28th.

Also notified was a change of address for Forbes, who had been registered at Chiswick in London. She’s now officially based at Glandore in Cork.

Fine Gael TD seeks support of public servants for fundraiser

Fine Gael in Cork must be hard-pressed for funds, since it’s taken to inviting senior public servants to chip into the party’s coffers. We asked the IDA Ireland for all correspondence received from TDs this year, and it included an email last March from the account of Colm Burke, a Fine Gael deputy for Cork North Central. It was sent to Ray O’Connor, a regional manager with the IDA responsible for marketing the southwest as a location for foreign direct investment.

“Dear Ray,” the email began, “we would be delighted if you would please join with us on April 21st in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be the guest speaker at the annual fundraising lunch for both the Fine Gael Cork North Central/Cork South Central constituencies”.

Claiming that Fine Gael had given “clear leadership” over the past 12 years, and the “necessary support to business”, Burke’s email said the Taoiseach would be speaking about the Government’s economic plan “and how this can be of assistance to Cork businesses and the Cork economy”. Then came the punchline: “The cost per ticket is €125.”

Asked whether it was appropriate to ask a public servant for money for party political purposes from an Oireachtas email address, a Fine Gael spokesman declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the IDA said O’Connor did not accept the invitation to attend the event.

Lucy Gaffney to campaign for slavery reparations for Caribbean countries

Stepping back into the limelight is Lucy Gaffney, who was chairperson of Denis O’Brien’s radio group Communicorp until it was bought by Bauer Media Group two years ago. She has become a director of The Repair Campaign, which is seeking reparations from former colonial powers for the damage caused by slavery in the Caribbean. The cause has been championed by O’Brien, founder of the Digicel telco in the region, who has challenged Britain and France to atone for slavery.

In a recent TV interview in St Lucia, Gaffney confirmed that Repair is being funded by O’Brien, who has worked in the region for 24 years. “During that time he saw with his own eyes the lack of investment and the legacies of slavery and colonisation,” she said. “He also listened to people, made friends, and heard about the intergenerational legacies of slavery and how the pain and stain is still in the Caribbean. Armed with this knowledge he decided he would set up The Repair Campaign, and in June 2022, at a conference, said ‘I am willing to put my name and the wealth that I have behind the call for reparations’.”

Gaffney was on a research team that visited all 15 Caribbean countries, meeting with governments, church leaders and social groups to discuss investment ideas. “Our particular standpoint, which has been governed by O’Brien’s business dealings in the region, is ‘let us create 15 socio-economic plans which will seek funding from those that have been involved in chattel slavery’.” Asked who exactly will be asked to cough up, Gaffney listed off the UK and EU governments, institutions such as Lloyds Bank and Glasgow University, the Church of England, “families, anybody who was involved”.

This is no quick fix, Gaffney stressed, with investments planned over 25 years “because we are very much of the viewpoint that any reparatory justice has to be transformative and sustainable – it’s not just writing one cheque”.

McGrath becomes EY partner helped by ‘support network’ at home

Sarah McGrath has thanked “my support network at home” in a post on social media announcing her appointment as partner at EY. She name-checked her husband, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, and also her son Jack, who seems to be going into the family business, as he is a final-year student doing a BSc in Financial Maths and Actuarial Science at University College Cork.

Also on the move is Elizabeth Headon, who has been leading corporate communications for Bus Éireann and is joining Vodafone Ireland as external affairs director. We can also reveal that John Jordan, who stepped down as chief executive of Ornua last week, is becoming partner and chief operations officer at Arbor Investments, a specialised private equity firm with a head office in Chicago.