New reality dawns for Quinn as Garda van arrives


It was a historic moment as the first big beast of Irish business jungle joined a new batch of prisoners to Mountjoy

TO THE end, Seán Quinn retained his ability to surprise.

A stately, almost funereal procession from a Four Courts holding cell along Byzantine corridors ended abruptly at an exit, where the 66-year-old took a startlingly athletic running jump into the narrow, black cage of a Garda van.

The vehicle had been reversed almost to the steps, frustrating attempts to photograph the historic moment when the first big beast of the Irish business jungle was taken away to join the 20 to 30 new prisoners committed to Mountjoy every Friday afternoon.

It was only three years since the new inmate had controlled a €5 billion empire and – in the words of his lawyer – “stood tall as a leading light of the Celtic Tiger”.

Three weeks ago, he told the Financial Times that he deserved public gratitude. “Overall I don’t think that I owe the Irish taxpayer any apology”.

Yesterday he was emotional but unbowed.

“They have tried to drag us through the muck. They took all my money. They took my companies. They took my reputation and they put me in jail, but yet they have proven nothing,” he told the media.

Then a garda finally lost patience, tapped him firmly on the shoulder and with a wag of an index finger, gestured towards the cells downstairs.

Still, he was taken at a time of his choosing and without handcuffs. He could have requested a stay on the nine-week sentence – the IBRC had made no objection – but from early morning, his drained, hollow-eyed face suggested his mind was made up.

As Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne read her 11-page judgment, terms such as “evasive and unco- operative”, “not credible”, “serious misconduct” and “outrageous” were dropped into the crammed and silent court.

Tears welled in his eyes when she mentioned his background, his education, the start of his business and “its development into what became one of the largest business enterprises in this country”.

She spoke of his links with the GAA and numerous charities and of his medical problems.

She also referred to his affidavit, in which he spoke of how “these proceedings had ‘negatively consumed’ his life and that of his wider family”.

But, she concluded briskly, “he has only himself to blame”.

His supporters, seated around him, looked increasingly downcast as he dabbed at his eyes and mouth with a big white handkerchief, pulled at his ear, worked his jaw in a nervous tic and repeatedly brought his head down, then straightened up and folded his arms.

It hardly helped that his nemesis, Mike Aynsley, the group chief executive of the IBRC, was seated directly in front of him.

When sentence was pronounced, Quinn blinked and fitfully massaged his throat. The court adjourned to give him time to consider a stay, but there was obviously little left to be decided. He and his son Seán jnr used the time to sup pints in a downstairs bar.

There was no surprise when his lawyer told the court that his client wanted to begin his sentence immediately.

Quinn told the media: “I suppose I was always proactive in life and never waited around for somebody else to make decisions . . . It’s as well getting it dealt with.”

The only problem with the timing was that he wanted to be out for a grandchild’s Christening on December 22nd. That wasn’t for the court to decide, said the judge.

By then the new reality had been signalled by the appearance of a uniformed garda.

As the courtroom emptied, supporters surrounded him and shook his hand. Tears trickled down his face while a woman hugged him, then he was led away.

Out in the corridor, Seán jnr made phone calls, watching alone through a window as the Garda van backed into the yard.

Outside, a successful 55-year- old Dublin-based businessman in a pinstriped suit leaned against a wall and wept openly for the man who had been his first employer.

“Twenty-five years later, when I was fundraising for youth development for Fermanagh GAA, he gave me €100,000 and said ‘spend it well’. That’s only seven years ago. I felt I owed it to him to take two days here to support him.”