Quinn children draw line under mistakes of their father

End of labyrinthine litigation marks generational shift in family’s battle with bank

Seán Quinn’s daughters Aoife, Brenda, Colette and Ciara outside the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins Courts

Seán Quinn’s daughters Aoife, Brenda, Colette and Ciara outside the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

It was seen in the Cavan-Fermanagh Border area as the last opportunity for former billionaire Seán Quinn to restore his once-famed reputation as a local business chieftain.

The court case was a chance for the five adult children of the 72-year-old Fermanagh man, once lauded as Ireland’s richest man, to present the former Anglo Irish Bank as the “worst bank” which forced them to “put their heads in the noose” by taking on liability for €415 million in loans to fund their father’s share-gambling losses.

In the end, their legal action, like the bank their father bet big on, was built on sand.

A belated attempt – eight years into the case – to draw the family patriarch into the arena failed when Mr Justice Garrett Simons refused to allow them pursue claims of undue influence against Seán Quinn snr. The case settled soon after.

The children – Colette, Ciara, Seán jnr, Aoife and Brenda – can walk away from a labyrinth of litigation with the renamed Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) but have not escaped the shadow of the State-owned bank.

A sword of Damocles hangs over them. If they fail to help IBRC to secure the return of assets in the family’s globe-spanning property group, an on-hold judgment of €440 million, or €88 million for each Quinn, will be executed, potentially putting them on the same road to bankruptcy both their parents had to travel.

The Quinn children were always going to have to put their father centre stage in their case given the pivotal role he played as Anglo careened towards a cliff edge as the financial crisis grew from late 2007.

Ownership ceded

The reasons for his initial absence in this case can be traced back to his ceding ownership in the group to his children in 2002.

Brenda, the youngest, was just 15 at the time. Her story shows the blurring of lines between family and business in the Quinn clan. She followed her siblings into the family’s group of businesses. She worked summer holidays in the family’s Slieve Russell Hotel and the group’s head office in Derrylin.

She told the court in a witness statement that she was “broadly aware” of her family’s business activities when she was growing up and knew the group of industrial businesses was “very profitable”, she said.

We are just forgetting about it and trying to move on with other things

“From a very young age I was aware that the Slieve Russell Hotel was owned by me. The hotel is located very close to our home and was the asset with which I was most familiar with from a very early age,” she said.

By the time the margin calls came on her father’s €3 billion gambling losses on Anglo, she was in college in Galway. She had to slip away from lectures to sign and fax signature pages on loan documents to Quinn headquarters in Fermanagh to provide guarantees and pledges as co-owner of a multibillion-euro conglomerate.

Once, in March 2008, when Anglo’s share price began to plummet, she had to ask a bus driver to drop her off at a hotel in Co Clare on her return from a college football game. A receptionist faxed back a signed document.

The case was settled before Brenda, the first witness, was due to testify.

Now the five children – each one a billionaire more than a decade ago – are safe from the threat of bankruptcy from the bank’s now-settled counter-action over asset-stripping in the property group. Ranging in ages from 32 to 43, the children can move on with their lives, albeit with terms and conditions applying.

People generally feel that it is very unfortunate the way it has played out but it doesn’t take away from what Seán did in the previous 40 years

The legal settlement is seen as a generational line being drawn within the family, a decision by the children – most with children of their own – to shield themselves from any further fallout over the mistakes of their father.

“We are just forgetting about it and trying to move on with other things,” said Seán jnr when called yesterday. Father and son can draw on their experiences with Anglo in their new online gambling business, QuinnBet.

As for the patriarch himself, the children’s decision leaves him in a difficult position, still eager – according to people close to him – to influence what future generations think of Seán Quinn and his business legacy.

“People generally feel that it is very unfortunate the way it has played out but it doesn’t take away from what Seán did in the previous 40 years,” said one local dealing with Quinn’s former business.

“People have to get on with their lives and have mortgages and bills to pay.”

That, now, includes Quinn’s own children.