Quinn says family are ‘victims’ of bad Government policy
Bankrupt businessman fights tears at opening of Balinamore festival
Seán Quinn was received warmly by the crowd at the opening of the Ballinamore Family Festival today. Photograph: Brian Farrell
Marese McDonagh in Ballinamore
Beleagured businessman Seán Quinn has admitted he made “lots of mistakes”, but in a defiant address in Co Leitrim he also accused the Government of being “anti-Seán Quinn”.
The former billionaire, who got a warm reception from a crowd of about 1,000 when he officially opened the Ballinamore Family Festival today, said he should not have invested so much money in Anglo Irish Bank.
“But I did not know what I was doing. I did not know that they were what they were,” he said.
Mr Quinn had a special word of thanks for journalist Paul Williams who he said was in the crowd. He said the “Anglo tapes” had done more to bring the truth to the people than all the other politicians and media put together, “and all I can say Paul is thanks very much for that”.
Mr Quinn, who became emotional when he referred to the impact of events on his family, hit out at successive governments who he said had contributed to the downturn.
Saying he had a “simple analysis” of what had gone wrong, Mr Quinn said the problems started 15 years ago when successive Irish governments ran a country where costs increased at three times the rate of inflation.
He said with his “ limited experience in business” he knew no country or company could do that, especially over a 15 year period, without developing major problems.
Ireland’s one-time richest man also criticised the “18 or 20 tax incentive schemes” available for building houses, hotels and offices for contributing to the downturn.
“I think that building all those houses, pubs, hotels and office blocks in hundreds of locations through country in the last 15 years, that as well as running a budget deficit three times rate of inflation, I think that was crazy. I think it was the main source of the downfall,” he said.
Mr Quinn said when banks came under pressure “all the people supposed to provide advice to the Government”, including brokers, economists, the regulator, the central bank, the Department of Finance, the Minister for Finance, and the Taoiseach, “all said no problem, the banks are sound”.
They had maintained that the banks were well capitalised and the bad debts were limited. When that turned out not to be the case, “rather than blaming themselves for what happened over the previous 15 years they blamed the victims — and I think a lot of people in this audience are the victims”.
Mr Quinn’s voice faltered and he fought back tears as he remarked that he and his family were certainly victims. “They threw people out of their homes, out of their businesses, they tipped them over and they put guys in to run them and they would not run a chicken farm,” he added.
Telling the crowd that many companies including his own had been destroyed, Mr Quinn said for 25 years the Quinnn Group created an additional 200 jobs each year. “We doubled profits every four years, until we got involved in the Anglo fiasco.”
The businessman said he had got letters from all over Ireland when he was “on my holiday up in Mountjoy”.
Accusing the Government of being “anti-Seán Quinn”, he said the previous Government had been sold a pup and were now “stuck in a hole and they do not know how to get out of it.
“And they don’t have the guts or the knowledge or the common sense or the ability to say there has been an injustice done here. We should be sitting around the table sorting this out.”
Mr Quinn said he had made several gestures “to say we are happy to come to an accommodation if it can be done but nobody has the balls” to do this.