Contempt and credibility


THE ULTIMATE legal fate of Seán Quinn will be decided in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion, or on the streets of this country. And the court in discharging its function will follow the rule of law. It will not be swayed by whatever support and sympathy that either he, the Quinn family or its supporters can mobilise in Ballyconnell, or generate farther afield on either side of the Border.

No man is above the law. Whatever local displays of loyalty and solidarity – albeit understandable but nevertheless misplaced – that may be shown for someone who rose rapidly to become one of the country’s most remarkable entrepreneurs, and one of its biggest employers, Mr Quinn now deserves no wider public support. He has shown – and continues to show – an utter and flagrant contempt for the judicial process, a cornerstone of our democracy.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who last week granted orders freezing the bank accounts of some Quinn family members, made a telling observation. On the uncontradicted evidence before him, he said that it seemed the Quinns had deliberately created and operated a scheme of mesmeric complexity, reeking of dishonesty. And they had done so to put assets beyond the reach of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly Anglo-Irish Bank, and to feather their own nests. The judge, who since 2004 has presided over the Commercial Court with great distinction, said he had never seen anything like the conduct in this case.

Mr Quinn, who has already been found guilty of contempt of court has, so far, been spared a prison sentence. His son Seán is serving a jail term for contempt, his nephew, Peter Darragh Quinn, has fled the jurisdiction and remains a fugitive from justice – able to attend Gaelic football matches in the North, but unwilling to face his legal responsibilities in this State. Mr Quinn the elder, who is seen as the family patriarch, now risks compounding his contempt offence by adopting a high public profile, and making far too many ill-advised remarks that further damage his diminished credibility.

No one can take pleasure in his misfortune. His overnight fall from billionaire – and one of Ireland’s richest men – to bankrupt businessman is a personal tragedy. It is also, given the financial sums at stake, the jobs lost, and the business reputations damaged, a major national setback. Mr Quinn’s bluff and bluster attempts to convince a sceptical public that he is more sinned against than sinning have failed to impress. He has sought to cultivate a sense of victimhood in order to exonerate himself and to blame others for mistakes and misjudgments of his own making. In doing so he has managed to sound like a fool while acting like a knave.There can only be one winner in all this. And from what we have seen so far, it will not be Mr Quinn. Speaking truth to power can require moral courage.

Speaking truth to Mr Quinn is the best service that his friends who hold his best interests at heart – not least those in the GAA – can and should now provide.