Seán Quinn saw €3bn Anglo Irish Bank loss like earlier ‘wee hiccups’ in 40-year career

Second part of RTÉ series Quinn Country charts collapse of former billionaire’s business empire

Former billionaire Seán Quinn said he did not see his €3 billion loss on Anglo Irish Bank as any different from “wee hiccups” he experienced earlier in his 40-year career.

In the second episode of the three-part RTÉ television documentary Quinn Country on Tuesday night, the Fermanagh businessman spoke candidly about his disastrous investment in the now-defunct bank that led to the collapse of his multibillion euro empire.

Mr Quinn invested heavily in Anglo through contracts for difference (CFD), a type of high-risk investment on a share price, that forced him to borrow heavily from the bank and breach regulations by dipping into the cash reserves of his company, Quinn Insurance, to cover his losses.

The investment ultimately led to the Cavan-based industrialist’s bankruptcy and his brief imprisonment for contempt of court for putting assets beyond the reach of the State-owned bank.


The second part of the television series, written and directed by documentary maker Trevor Birney of Fine Point films, features the story of the collapse of Mr Quinn’s business.

Mr Quinn told the programme that he didn’t consider himself “a risk taker”. He said he had experienced “a shock or two” in his business career and, like those, didn’t go “broadcasting that” when he lost huge sums on Anglo because it “wasn’t in the public knowledge”.

“Anything I had done for the previous 35, 40 years I suppose turned out to be successful and any wee hiccups were always ironed out over a six-, 12-month period. I didn’t see it any different from that. I didn’t see this crash of 2007-2009… I didn’t see it any different,” he said.

Mr Quinn said he made an “awful lot of good decisions” in his four-decade career but that the Anglo investment was “one bad one and one fatal one”.

The documentary shows how Mr Quinn, whose businesses ranged from cement-making and building materials to pubs and hotels, secretly built up his CFD investment in Ireland’s then third largest bank to an interest amounting to more than one-quarter of the bank’s shareholding.

Mr Quinn said he continued investing in Anglo CFDs even after disclosing the full extent of his interest at a private meeting in 2007 with the bank’s chairman Sean FitzPatrick and chief executive David Drumm, who both expressed surprised and disappointment at the size of his investment.

“That was wrong I shouldn’t have done that. There was no excuse for that. It was stupid to increase it at all. I accept that. I shouldn’t have bought more shares,” he said.

Mr Quinn said that he was “ambitious” and “hungry” and liked to be successful and to win in business but acknowledged that in the pre-crash period he was “maybe taking too much risk” and was maybe “too close to the decision-making at all times”.

The 76-year-old businessman told the documentary that his five adult children, all shareholders in his one-time €5 billion business, thought they were “multimillionaires, if not more, and then their father gave it all away on them”.

The documentary touches on how his children were asked to sign the signatory pages of documents that allowed Anglo to lend hundreds of millions of euro to Mr Quinn to cover his losses on the bank as the share price began its rapid decline from late 2007.

He ended up owing the bank almost €3 billion, which eventually resulted in the bank seizing control of his business empire in 2011.

Alan Dukes, the former Fine Gael minister who became chairman of Anglo (later IBRC) after its nationalisation, told the documentary that Mr Quinn may not have told his children what they were signing but that they must have known they were important documents.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Daddy didn’t tell them the full implications of everything that was going on,” said Mr Dukes.

But the former politician said they “didn’t come down in the last shower of rain” and couldn’t come back and complain afterwards that the bank “didn’t send somebody up to hold their hand and explain the fine print to them”.

Mr Dukes likened Mr Quinn to a gambler who continued gambling even as the Anglo share price was “tanking”.

“It is a mentality that I think is ultimately self-destructive,” he said.

Mr Quinn also disclosed in the documentary that he decided to move assets in the family’s €455 million international property empire, not secured by the bank, out of IBRC’s reach straight after the State-owned bank seized control of his business empire.

He described this as “a bad decision”.

“People were on aeroplanes that evening trying to agree [on] individuals we could move assets into different names to keep them safe,” he said.

The third and final part of Quinn Country will be broadcast on Wednesday night.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent