Tributes paid to Feargal Quinn: ‘The best president Ireland never had’

Politicians and business community praise ex-senator and founder of Superquinn chain


Tributes are being paid to businessman Feargal Quinn, best known as the founder of the Superquinn supermarket chain, who has died after a short illness at the age of 82.

Mr Quinn also served as a senator for 23 years from 1993 until 2016 on the National University of Ireland panel.

More recently, he also became a media personality, offering advice to aspiring retailers as presenter of RTÉ programme Retail Therapy.

Mr Quinn, who founded the Superquinn chain of grocers before selling the business in 2005 for €420 million, is survived by his wife Denise Quinn, their five children, and 19 grandchildren.

His family led the tributes yesterday, saying he was a “loving and caring husband, father, grandfather and brother. To everyone else who knew him, he was an ebullient businessman, entrepreneur, innovator and former senator.”

Leading political figures said Mr Quinn, who was returned as a senator for the National University of Ireland at every election between 1993 and 2011, will be remembered for his warmth, integrity and enthusiasm.

President Michael D Higgins said Mr Quinn “was a gifted entrepreneur, whose vision of customer service and innovation transformed the landscape of the retail trade in Ireland over many decades”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Quinn was “someone whose entire life was dedicated to serving others...our country benefited from his vision and energy”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that what set him apart was “his personal warmth and great integrity”, calling him a “true gentleman”. Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Quinn was “the gentleman of Seanad Éireann” and, along with others, remembered Mr Quinn’s work on a Bill to protect sub-contractors.

Former presidential candidate Sean Gallagher, who worked with him on the Bill, said “people supported it because there was no agenda other than fairness”. Professor John Crown, who worked closely with him in the Seanad, said he “was an extremely fair-minded, principled man, a talented legislator and diligent Senator”.

The Independent Alliance recalled the “personal integrity, drive and enthusiasm” of their “friend and former colleague”.

‘A cut above’

Minister for Transport Shane Ross TD said it was a “really sad day for the nation” and for Mr Quinn’s family.

“This man was an icon. I’ve always described him as ‘The Best President Ireland Never Had’.

“Despite his great wealth and incredible success he related to everybody. Customers and staff loved him. He was so absolutely genuine in his beliefs.

On Mr Quinn’s time as a senator, Mr Ross said: “He was a cut above all of us politicians. He got on with his job, he didn’t get involved in spats.

“He was never flash just generous, he was a superb listener, something very special.

“He was a very genuine and easy person to deal with. His word was his bond.”

Ambitious for Ireland

Senator and former tánaiste Michael McDowell said Mr Quinn was “the consummate gentleman”. “All who had dealings with him will remember him for his kindness and ability.”

Mr McDowell added: “People shouldn’t consider that niceness made him a fluffy person, he was very strong.

“While he was recognised as someone who was kind and gentle in his dealings with people, he was very firm in his opinions.”

On Mr Quinn’s years in business and as a senator, Mr McDowell said: “He made it his business to know his staff and to know his customers.

“He was conservative in his moral outlook, but not in his ambitions for Ireland.

Mr McDowell also praised Mr Quinn for donating his Seanad salary to charity, which he did at the beginning of his political career; latterly he refused payment entirely.

An Post chairman Dermot Divilly said Mr Quinn, who first held the post of chair, said he “set the postal service and post office network on a sound, forward-looking, modern footing”.

There were also tributes from the business community. Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said he “left a very significant and positive mark on Irish life”. Chris Martin, CEO of Musgraves, which now owns the former Superquinn stores, called him a “visionary in Irish food and a retail pioneer”. Patrick Coveney, CEO of Greencore, said he was a smart business leader, and had a wonderful way with people. Tailor Louis Copeland, who was a friend, said he was “the ultimate retailer”.

Senator Michael McDowell said “all who had dealings with him will remember him for his kindness and ability”. Ben Dunne said he was a “great businessman and a great Irishman”.

‘Great businessman and great Irishman’

Fellow retailer and businessman Ben Dunne said Mr Quinn “brought in a thing called ‘customer service’”, and praised him as a “good retailer”, who “made sure everything was right for the customer”.

“He was kind, but he was also ruthless. He was nobody’s fool. He kept that family feeling in business.

“He came from humble beginnings, he went from nowhere to matching the big operators.

“He was a great businessman and a great Irishman. ”

Labour’s Seanad Leader Ivana Bacik expressed her sympathy to the Quinn family. “Feargal Quinn was always a well regarded and courteous colleague to all of his fellow senators,” Ms Bacik said.

“As a senator for the NUI panel, he represented his constituents in exemplary fashion, and as a fellow University senator, it was a pleasure to work alongside him as I did from 2007 until his retirement in 2016.

“I am sure that Feargal’s legacy as a successful businessperson and diligent politician will be a source of great pride for his family for years to come.”

His remains will repose at Stafford’s Funeral Home, Strand Road, Portmarnock on Friday, 26 April from 5pm-8pm with removal on Saturday to St Fintan’s Church, Sutton arriving for 10am Mass. He will be buried in St Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton. –Additional reporting PA