A Co Cavan priest who has blamed a "Mafia-style group with its own 'Godfather'" for the assault on local businessman Kevin Lunney was warned to "watch yourself" after he condemned from the pulpit at Mass on Saturday night.
Fr Oliver O'Reilly condemned "the perpetrators of this vile act" and the "paymaster or paymasters" behind the attack on Mr Lunney during his homily to parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ballyconnell.
In remarks delivered again at Sunday morning Masses in Kildallan and Ballyconnell, the parish priest described the “prolonged torture, imposed suffering and life-changing injuries” inflicted on the 50-year-old father of six as “a modern form of crucifixion deployed by terrorist groups such as Islamic State.”
Mr Lunney, a director of building products manufacturer Quinn Industrial Holdings, was kidnapped and badly beaten on the evening of September 17th after being abducted from outside his home in Co Fermanagh.
He received knife wounds to his face and neck, and had one of his legs broken in two places in a sustained attack before being dumped more than two hours after his abduction on a roadside in Cornafean, Co Cavan.
The Garda and Police Service of Northern Ireland are investigating the attack, which marks a violent escalation in the years-long campaign of intimidation and assaults against executives of the industrial group once controlled by local businessman Sean Quinn.
Mr Quinn has disavowed the campaign and condemned the attack on Mr Lunney as “barbaric.”
Speaking from the pulpit, the priest told parishioners on Saturday evening that “a rubicon has now been crossed by this most recent barbaric assault”.
Fr O’Reilly told The Irish Times that he received positive comments from local people who heard his homily and the strong condemnation of the attack on Mr Lunney but also “a little bit of negativity”.
One individual told him to “mind my own business” outside the church after the mass, he said, while he was telephoned by another individual on Saturday night who issued a warning.
“Somebody did ring me and say watch yourself,” he said.
The priest did not see the comments as threats and said he would not report them to the Garda.
“I am not worried about that,” he said.
Fr O’Reilly said that there were “not too many” locals who were critical of what he had to say but that they were “very strong-willed”.
“There would be some here who would be supportive of the paymaster and that is the reality,” he said.
He declined to say who the paymaster is.
“The dogs in the street know who it is,” he said.
Fr O’Reilly, the parish priest in Ballyconnell for the past four years but who has served in the Border region for a longer period, told parishioners that he was “totally shocked and angry” at the “depraved act and scandalous attack on an innocent and powerless man by hired savage thugs”.
He was abroad on holidays when he first learned of the assault on Mr Lunney.
In an excoriating rebuke to the people directly involved in the attack and behind it, the priest said in his homily that the assault was a “tactic” that was used to “frighten, intimidate and terrorise ordinary people”.
“This well-planned and well-organised abduction could only have happened when some person with ulterior motives agree to pay these criminals a sum of money and gave instructions on what he required to be done to an unsuspecting victim,” Fr O’Reilly said from the pulpit.
He denounced them in church as “compulsive liars”.
“This senseless atrocity follows years of threats, abuse, lies and various forms of violent intimidation against the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings,” he said.
“Maybe some people in our region need to examine their consciences about their angry rants at public meetings and defamatory statements on one or more social media sites.
“They need to face the truth that their diatribes added to that climate of intimidation and incited hatred leading up to this dark deed. Let them now take responsibility for their actions and learn lessons.”
Fr O'Reilly said that the "long reign of terror" now threatens "the lives and livelihoods" of everybody living in the Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim border region.
‘Evil in our midst’
He condemned “a false narrative out there promoted by a small group of people in our midst that needs to be challenged”.
"The directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings are not usurpers but quality leaders who courageously took on the management of the company at a time of crisis," he said, referring to the business that was seized by its creditors following Mr Quinn's heavy losses on a soured investment in the collapsed Anglo Irish Bank.
“These men lost their jobs at the time of administration and only came back at the end of 2014 to manage this company in order to save jobs in our region,” he said.
“They have excelled in their endeavours and expanded the workforce to 830 staff. Our support and respect for them has been well earned and is well deserved.”
Speaking from the altar at the church in Ballyconnell on Saturday night, Fr O’Reilly said he and many others like him had been “far too complacent” believing the intimidation campaign would “eventually peter out”.
“We have all been hoodwinked,” he said before apologising to Mr Lunney and his extended family and the other directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings “for my own ambivalence in not speaking out more forcibly about their safety until this weekend”.
There was “an obvious cancer of evil in our midst that needs to be exorcised before someone is murdered and the norms of human decency and mutual respect that we all believe in and treasure are destroyed before our eyes,” he said.
The community was “now held to ransom by a few unscrupulous individuals who are hugely dangerous,” he said.
“We can no longer behave like the ostrich by putting our heads in the sand and pretend that life is normal in our area,” he said.
Speaking after delivering his homily, Fr O’Reilly told The Irish Times that he felt he had to speak out as he would regret it in future if he remained silent now and someone was later killed.
“If the thing is escalating and then someone dies, then you regret it and think, what the hell were you doing that you didn’t give a warning,” he said.