'He stands before you - bankrupt, forlorn, looking back at a starry career'


FOLLOWING A perfectly pitched appeal to the heart by his barrister yesterday, Seán Quinn snr returns to the Four Courts today, where the 66-year-old’s liberty hangs on the decision of a High Court judge.

Whether it worked for Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne will not be known until 11am, but for an audience mainly comprising rugged Derrylin men in fleeces and jumpers, Eugene Grant’s passionate, last-ditch appeal for some kind of mitigation contrasted sharply with the speed-reading of a dull, 21-page affidavit for the IBRC. “He stands before you, historically one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs, now bereft of all financial and economic dignity,” Grant told the judge.

Quinn wasn’t actually standing before her, of course. These are not criminal proceedings. He had chosen to seat himself in the farthest reaches of the court, composed and genial, buffered by about 25 of his flint-eyed countrymen, double the number two weeks ago. Seán jnr – a few weeks out of jail – sat up front, but once again, no answer came to the shout-out for his cousin, Peter Darragh Quinn, subject to an arrest warrant if he crosses the Border into the Republic. A brief appearance in the public gallery by Ken Drumm brought to mind another much-missed exile, his brother David, former chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank.

Drumm’s successor at the rebranded bank, Mike Aynsley, examined his tie as Grant acclaimed Quinn as a man who had left school at 14 and in his 20s, had borrowed £100 from a bank – “which he repaid”, he said hastily – to set up the gravel business from which sprang an empire. He was “an iconic figure” who created thousands of jobs, who “stood tall as a leading light of the Celtic Tiger” – although some knowing glances in court suggested the latter might not be the compliment it once was.

After 38 years in business, there had been no tax avoidance schemes, no offshore schemes, added Grant. He was known to pay his dues and was a massive subscriber to charity. “But he’s before you now – bankrupt, forlorn, looking back at that starry career in the context of serious medical problems.”

The problems were listed in Quinn’s affidavit: “severe” ischaemic heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, reflux oesophagitis, recurring tubular adenomas in the colon; an excision of a basal cell carcinoma in his upper back and “borderline” PSA tests (to detect early prostate cancer).

Throughout the hearings, there has been the sense of an irresistible object meeting an immovable force: Quinn’s claim that while he was in on the original scheme to place assets out of reach, he had no hand in it thereafter, versus the bank’s frantic hunt for the missing assets even as they are permanently spirited away in places such as Ukraine, Russia, Belize and Panama. Still, it was notable that the bank did not demand a jail sentence for the man whose civil action against it lies ahead. Both sides appeared to step back, with the word “recalibrating” in regular use by the bank’s side.