I have been involved in businesses in the Cavan / Fermanagh border area for the last forty years, as was my father and grandfather before me. I managed my father’s pub in Ballyconnell in 1974 and after spending 20 years in business in Killesher Co.Fermanagh I now own businesses in Ballyconnell, Belturbet, and Ballinamore.
In the early days I can remember a lot of hard times – no jobs, no money, no housing, emigration, coupled with the bitterness and despair brought upon us by the troubles – bombings, border security, carnage and deaths in our local area.
It was also during this time Sean Quinn started to build his empire and the hard times and despair blossomed into jobs, money, housing and a fair share of peace. Because of this my business along with all other businesses in the area grew and we all helped to provide peace and prosperity.
Quinn always said, and I fully agree, the prosperity was brought about not just through his expertise but the sweat and blood and labours of his workers and the local community. We all created the environment and prosperity and over the period of time jobs were handed from parents to children. These jobs became the birthright of our children and were to be handed on for generations to come. Our community never asked for any help and we didn’t receive any help. In the early days the only thing that made the headlines were the paratroopers and the potholes. But this was our country and we were proud of it.
We were all devastated when Quinn was dethroned in 2011. He had transferred this potholed ridden countryside into a beautiful industrial oasis. What was once one of the poorest parts of Ireland had become one of the wealthiest. And like a great fallen animal we saw the vultures flying overhead, the liquidators, the regulators, the financiers, the accountants, the lawmen, the bond holders and the bankers. All ready to tear off the flesh of this very tasty carcass.
We all followed the news reports with interest and we knew all the main players by heart, Quinn, Lenihan, Noonan, Neary, Dukes, Fitzpatrick, Elderfield, Aynsley and the rest. Quinn Insurance was eventually sold for a single euro to Liberty and hundreds of jobs were lost. Quinn Group was divided between Anglo Irish Bank and the bond holders and Paul O’ Brien was made CEO.
We all held our breath and hoped this would work. We were promised no job losses and no asset stripping. However when Quinn’s entire senior management were sacked and the company was systematically de-Quinned, by paying off any manager or charge hand who was “close” to Quinn, a few of us felt this was a step too far. These were the very people who built this company. Without them what hope was there of survival. Then restlessness and sabotage crept in. Something had to be done within our community.
The Cavan / Fermanagh / Leitrim Community Group was formed and we were and still are the only group to meet all the parties in the Quinn saga, Alan Dukes (chairman of Anglo), Paul O’ Brien (CEO Quinn Group, now Aventas), politicians, various directors and management of Quinn Group, representatives of Quinn Group staff, numerous interested people inside and outside the area and even An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
We were a community based group made up of community leaders with the best interest of our community at heart. After months of negotiations with the various parties we met Alan Dukes for a second time with our proposal, which was to place David Mackey (ex CEO Quinn Group and ex County Manager), or some one local of similar standing, to jointly run the group, for a time at least, with Paul O’ Brien and promote some local middle management to senior posts. We felt this would be acceptable to Quinn staff, customers and the local community and also give stability and continuity back to the Quinn Group. We presented our proposal and Dukes’s reply at a public meeting in Ballyconnell Parochial Hall and a very large crowd attended.
Needless to say our proposal wasn’t taken up by the powers that be and as I drive down the Derrylin road today I wonder to myself, what if? Memories of the troubles and the British Army checkpoint came flooding back – bollards, boulders, security men and smoke damaged buildings. Where have all the lorries gone. I could never drive down this road at speed. And all our worst fears have come to pass, hundreds of jobs have since been lost, plant and assets been sold off, no local management, bad atmosphere amongst staff to the point that unions have been called in, property sabotaged nearly on a weekly basis and all the property is now up for sale to the highest bidder. What has happened to our beautiful oasis? Have the vultures now picked the carcass clean? Are they flying back to their nests with their bellies full of the meat that was suppose to feed our children and our children’s children? And as I am deep in thought, low and behold, I hit a pothole.
We cannot let this happen. Some of our group met again recently, excited by the entrance of Quinn Business Retention Company into the bidding for the entire Aventas Group. The QBRC consists of ex Quinn Group senior management who were responsible for the creation of over 6,000 jobs of which 2,500 were in the local border area. During their tenure, which saw several recessions, not one person was ever made redundant. We have no doubt this company will have the support of all local communities, staff and customers and have the ability and expertise to restore peace and jobs back in the border region.
We need a fresh approach. An opportunity doesn’t often present itself twice. All our businesses are crying out for peace and stability. Do more jobs have to be lost, will all the factories be burnt to the ground or worse will someone get killed before common sense prevails? It doesn’t matter who started the war, whether it was the military style ousting of Quinn or the vandals intent on destroying all. Like all wars innocent civilians are getting caught on the crossfire and this has to stop.
We came out in our thousands to support the Quinn Family and maybe its time to come out again. All of the main players have left the stage – Quinn, Dukes, Elderfield, Aynsley and others. We must put the company back into the hands of those who can run it and into the hands of the local community. Every local politician and business should get behind this bid. Surely the vultures have gorged enough. We never asked for help and we never got it. All we want is to breathe life back into the carcass and recreate the oasis we have enjoyed for the last 40 years.
Ballyconnell and Ballinamore
Tel: 049-9526155 Tel: 071-9644609
Belturbet Tel: 049-9522993