Former billionaire Seán Quinn proclaims at the start of RTÉ’s Quinn Country documentary series that there are “achievers” and “destructors” in life and that he is “one of the achievers”.
In reality, he is both.
Over the past three nights, this three-part series, written and directed by Enniskillen-born documentary maker Trevor Birney, charted the Fermanagh quarryman’s remarkable achievements over four decades in business and how his own actions ultimately destroyed the vast fortune that were the fruits of those achievements.
Much of what we watched was not new, but what makes it compelling is how the different strands of the story were pulled together in this series from Fine Point films. It provides us with the fullest account yet of the rise of the businessman, building a multibillion euro empire out of the stony grey soil of the Cavan-Fermanagh Border region and his fall through his reckless gamble on Anglo Irish Bank shares. And then, in the final part in the series [to which this author was a contributor], the story of the subsequent fallout was told with a long period of intimidation and violence over Quinn’s loss of his business.
This telling of the story is made more captivating by Quinn’s own commentary at its centre, laden with a delusional unwillingness to acknowledge the full consequences of his own actions. He fails to recognise – still, more than a decade on from his collapse – how the loss of €3 billion on his disastrous investment in the now-defunct bank made it impossible for him to be entrusted with the continued stewardship of the businesses he created out of nothing.
Quinn’s is the classic tale of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object: how the mighty Quinn, once reputed to be Ireland’s richest man, was toppled by the consequences of his own flaws.
Not seeing risk allowed him to create a multibillion euro industrial conglomerate out of the mineral riches from the mountainside of Slieve Rushen that overshadowed his home. The businesses, jobs and individual wealth he created for local people in what was an economic backwater at the height of a bloody sectarian conflict will be remembered as a great achievement.
- Quinn Country part 3: Consumed by bitterness, a small man sits in his Xanadu by a lonely Cavan lake
- Quinn Country part 2: It’s like Shakespeare meets Father Ted meets The Big Short
- Quinn Country part 1: Mind-boggling wealth out of rock, rubble and a sense of destiny
But not seeing the risks also blinded him from insurance rules created to protect customers and from the excesses of the financial world that he failed to fully understand. Quinn’s record shows that the highly regulated industry of risk – insurance – is no place for a man who cannot see risk.
Former politician Alan Dukes, who chaired the management team installed at the nationalised Anglo, summed Quinn up in the final episode: the businessman “deserves to be remembered as somebody who achieved a remarkable economic revitalisation of a very depressed area of the country” but adds that the footnote will say that it is “a great pity that he gambled it all away”.
Sitting in his lavish lakeside home, a broken but defiant Quinn is filmed admitting to his mistakes but playing them down. For years, he has been unable to get past the wrongs he feels at the way he was treated. The 76-year-old rages against those who stopped him retaking control of the empire he built.
The final episode chronicles the sabotage, intimidation and violence that grips the locality around Quinn’s Derrylin-Ballyconnell power base in the wake of his loss of the Quinn Group, culminating in the abduction and attack on Kevin Lunney, Quinn’s one-time corporate son.
Despite what happened to Lunney, a man he feels betrayed him after being ousted from the business again in 2016, Quinn has no sympathy for his former executive, a member of the management team that took over the business: “I have nothing good to say about Kevin Lunney.”
Quinn said he had “absolutely nothing” to do with the attack. He consistently denies any involvement in the violence in the wake of the loss of his business but explains it by pointing to the anger among those loyal to him over how he has been treated.
Birney has supplemented his deep-dig into Quinn’s life with a new book, simply entitled Quinn, published on Thursday, that sheds more light on Quinn’s rise and fall. The book contains more detail on the businessman’s life, including fascinating insights from within his former camp. In September 2008, a member of his executive team had serious concerns about the businessman’s mental health after he vanished for a week following the Anglo share deal that crystallised his multibillion euro losses. Their concern was he may have suffered a breakdown.
“That’s the moment where you saw change. I’m convinced Seán Quinn was never the same after that,” one source close to the businessman at the time is quoted as saying in the book.
The final moments of the documentary show a tearful Quinn reflecting on his legacy: he saw himself as a man who built up a great company and who made “a very poor area ... more successful because of Seán Quinn than it would be without him and that he got rough justice”.
Quinn undoubtedly improved the lives of those around him but this documentary series confirmed once again that it was his own mistakes that cost him so much in his own life.