'Our instinct was . . . this is our big brother taking a knock'

 

In a strong show of support, thousands turn out in Cavan to stand by Seán Quinn, writes ALISON HEALY

THE SIGNS are dotted along the approach to Cavan town. “Save our jobs” reads one. “We support the Quinn Group and its workers” says another.

Many shop windows carried posters for yesterday’s rally. “Cavan needs Quinn Direct,” one poster declared. “Let us turn up before it’s too late.” And turn up they did. Several thousand people began to stream into Market Square and the adjoining streets from 5pm yesterday for the rally organised by Cavan Chamber of Commerce to show support for Seán Quinn and his workers.

As they gathered, Shannonside Northern Sound radio was beamed through the speakers so the crowd could hear an interview with Seán Quinn. The crowd, many of them coming straight from work, listened with something bordering on reverence as Mr Quinn accepted he had made mistakes but took issue with the swift actions taken by the Financial Regulator. There was loud applause and cheers when Mr Quinn observed that the people who were most critical of the company were the people who had done little themselves.

Speaking before the rally began, Donal Keogan who runs the Imperial Bar, said the town without the Quinn Group was “unimaginable”. He always knew when it was pay day at Quinn Insurance. “On the Friday that Quinn Direct get paid, there’s always a couple hundred extra people coming in. The night club is really busy. It’s huge for us.” He said there was a lot of local anger with the Financial Regulator for acting so swiftly in seeking administration. “Seán Quinn mightn’t have done everything right but the regulator just went in. There wasn’t much discussion. Seán Quinn is a legend here.” He was also critical of the Government Ministers who did not return calls to Mr Quinn last week. “When it came to good news about creating more employment, they were the first there to cut the tape,” he said.

Down the street at Cavan Travel, Michael Geraghty recalled when Quinn Insurance began operations in a small office in the town. Then the new building came on the Dublin Road. Then the car parks began to fill up and were extended. “It went from zero to hero in terms of employment,” he said. Cavan Travel benefited from this, thanks to the young affluent workforce “who like their holiday as good as the next person”.

Accountant Paddy Keavney said it would be impossible for anyone in Cavan not to know someone working in Quinn. “It’s like Manchester United supporters. You are never more than three foot away from one,” he said.

“The ramifications for the region are just too stark to contemplate if Seán Quinn does not get control of his insurance company back.” He said Quinn Insurance was the biggest member of the Chamber of Commerce. “Our initial instinct was, this is our big brother taking a knock. We have to get out on the streets to demonstrate to the powers that be, the net effect of all of this.” As president of Cavan Chamber of Commerce, local businessman Eamon McDwyer was one of the main organisers of yesterday’s rally. “This region would be just decimated without Quinn. In this office alone, there are four girls and between them they have seven siblings who work in Quinn Insurance and that’s just a sample of any office in Cavan town.”

He said the payroll for Quinn Insurance in Cavan was huge and it all went into the local economy. Are they going to take that away and replace it with a social welfare bill? We believe the chamber that if Quinn Direct goes, it would be the start of the demise of the Quinn Group.”

Asked if the Government could do anything to improve the situation, he said “they gave a blanket guarantee to the banking system overnight so I certainly believe they can do something. If we have the best brains in the country working together to find a solution, of course they can find one.” Mr McDwyer was the first to address yesterday’s rally and drew cheers as he noted that there had been “very few redundancies” in the Quinn Group since the recession started. Failure to restore control of Quinn Insurance to the Quinn Group would be “detrimental” to the entire region, he said.

Mona Bermingham of the Quinn Group said progress had been made yesterday as the administrator had reassessed Quinn Insurance’s NI and UK business plan and that plan would be resubmitted to the Financial Regulator this morning.