Executives reveal fears of death threats in Sean Quinn’s Derrylin
The next chapter in the ongoing corporate saga will be murder, writes Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald
‘IN the early 1980s we had the notorious Shankill Butchers, based in Belfast... Now in 2018 we have the Derrylin Butchers. This gang is led by local men Kevin Lunney and Liam McCaffrey... with the help of ... Dara O’Reilly.”
That abridged quote is one of numerous, grotesquely defamatory, untrue and incendiary posts from a Facebook community page dedicated to Sean Quinn, the billionaire-to-bankrupt founder of the former eponymous Quinn Group.
The Facebook targets, among others, are McCaffrey, Lunney and O’Reilly, three of Sean Quinn’s former key lieutenants who, along with senior management of the company that rescued key assets of the former Quinn Group from disposal, are now facing death threats.
What started out as a ma- licious online campaign after Sean Quinn Snr parted ways with Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH), the entity backed by three American hedge funds — which paid €100m for the former cement and industrial assets — has morphed into a terrifying spate of arson attacks which almost claimed the lives of O’Reilly, his wife and their two young children.
When I travelled to Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, last week, the last person I expected to speak to me was Dara O’Reilly.
The last time we spoke was in 2012, when I doorstepped him at 7am at his home in Butlersbridge, Co Cavan.
O’Reilly was protective of his family then. He is terrified for their safety now following an attack in recent weeks where his car was doused with petrol and set alight after the family had gone to bed.
It was one of three arson attacks so far directed at O’Reilly and members of the Lunney family, all of which, significantly, have taken place in the Republic of Ireland. “It could have been worse,” says O’Reilly, who along with McCaffrey and Lunney, have agreed to speak to me to highlight the risks to lives and property in the region.
“Its harder for the children,” says O’Reilly, quietly.
“Children shouldn’t have to be worried about things happening in their home, they should feel safe in their home”.
Kevin Lunney, whose own children have had to run the gauntlet of “wanted” posters on their way to school, says he hopes his children are resilient to deal with the threats.
“Like Dara said, our children should not be living with this worry,” said Lunney.
For his part, Sean Quinn Snr and his son, Sean Quinn Jnr, have publicly condemned the attacks.
“As the relationship between the community and Quinn Industrial Holdings deteriorates further it appears to me that it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed,” Quinn Jnr told Rodney Edwards of The Impartial Reporter last week.
Quinn Jnr denied the attacks were being carried out by Quinn supporters, but appeared to fan the flames of local tensions by unexpectedly describing McCaffrey, O’Reilly and Lunney as “pariahs” in the local community.
Whoever is directing the campaign of terror — an ex-INLA member is suspected of involvement in the more serious arson attacks — the origins of the current wave of intimidation lie in a much happier time in December 2014. That was when US hedge funds Brigade Capital, Silverpoint Capital and Contrarian Capital bought into the business, offering local management a 22pc stake.
This in turn offered the community a pathway to bring the business back into local ownership. According to McCaffrey, the new QIH board and its US backers could not countenance Sean Quinn as a director or officer, not least because he was still [at that time] an undischarged bankrupt and had served nine weeks in jail for contempt of court for attempting to put €500m worth of property assets beyond the reach of the now-defunct Anglo Irish Bank.
But the company did offer a potential pathway for Sean Quinn, extending a €500,000-a-year consultancy to the former founder at the behest of McCaffrey, who advocated strongly for a consultancy role for Sean Quinn and his son Sean Quinn Jnr.
The ‘second coming’ was celebrated with front-page pictures splashed across national newspapers in December 2014, with images of Sean Quinn — about to be released from a €2.8bn bankruptcy — carrying a tray of whiskey and beer for staff inside the Derrylin HQ of QIH.
Local businessman John McCartan, who had been instrumental in helping place the Quinn assets back into local ownership, said there was “something very poetic” about Sean Quinn’s return. But the poetry did not last. McCaffrey, who says he can understand why a broader group of people have sympathy for Sean Quinn, whom he spent many “brilliant” years with, says his former boss “didn’t realise that his role hadn’t been the same as it had been for 40 years when he owned and controlled the businesses absolutely”.
The QIH/Quinn relationship was terminated in May 2016 after multiple allegations of fraud and inappropriate behaviour levelled at the senior management team were refuted by third-party advisers hired by the QIH Board.
The antagonisms which led to the three recent arson attacks intensified last August after a meeting, attended by several hundred people, was addressed by a tearful Sean Quinn, who told supporters there was nobody who could make a greater success of QIH than him. Last week, Sean Quinn Jnr told The Impartial Reporter his father had been “sacked” after “false promises” were made to him.
The social media onslaughts continue unabated, with requests to take down inflammatory posts spurned despite the power of words to have real-life consequences as the localised but life-threatening attacks attest.
BEHIND all of the acrimony tearing apart Sean Quinn Snr’s birthplace is a thriving business providing more than 830 jobs in one of the most economically deprived areas on the Co Cavan-Co Fermanagh border.
QIH, spanning more than 1,000 acres across the Border, is intrinsic to the success of the local economy.
Every day, 120 truck loads traverse the roads around the parish of Teemore, where Sean Quinn was raised, en route to the UK, which accounts for more than 50pc of the business of QIH.
QIH, which has an annual turnover of €209m, and created 200 new jobs in less than three years, has just acquired a quarry in Fivemiletown that will last for a generation.
QIH provides bursaries and apprenticeships for local schoolchildren, schemes for graduates and training programmes, including charterships, for its employees.
But all of that is in jeopardy, with future investment and recruitment on the line.
Incredibly, not one single person has been arrested.
Make no mistake: if this were a Facebook, a Microsoft or a Dell in Dublin, Cork or Limerick, there would be emergency sessions in the Dail and targeted cross-border law enforcement operations akin to those deployed for gangland or paramilitary threats.
I’ve spent many times, too many times over the last seven years, travelling to Co Fermanagh and Co Cavan covering the so called “Quinn saga”.
I fear my next visits there will be to cover funerals. No company or society can countenance that prospect.
‘Children shouldn’t have to be worried about things happening’
“The money we earned in the 1990s was obviously big money, but it wasn’t big enough money to make you go crazy”
I was half expecting a burnt-out parody.
“In a weird way now, looking back, I never got so successful that I...” says Pete, pausing to phrase it properly, “to put it into perspective, the money we earned in the 1990s was obviously big money, but it wasn’t big enough money to make you a millionaire or make you go crazy. So I never got out of control. What the DJs have gone through in the last 10 years is like a footballer’s story. If you talk to Paul Gascoigne, he was the most famous footballer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was on a lot of money in the context of back then, but he wasn’t 500 grand a week, like Alexis Sanchez is now at Manchester United.” But you still get paid well to DJ, don’t you? “I still get paid well...” answers Pete. So, are you saying you’re Paul Gascoigne compared to David Guetta’s Alexis Sanchez?
“A bit. Yeah! David Guetta gets paid a lot more than me. And he sells more tickets. It’s all about how many tickets you sell, really. David Guetta doesn’t sell as many tickets as me with the orchestra though,” he laughs.
Pete is referring to the 65-piece Heritage Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley, which he brings to Dublin on November 24 for Pete Tong Ibiza Classics.
What would the young Pete Tong have thought of middle-aged Pete Tong playing with an orchestra?
“He would have thought it was cool.”
Pete’s parents bought him a drum kit one Christmas. At 12 years of age, he would sit in his front room of the family home in Kent and bash along to Led Zeppelin songs, dreaming he was Jon Bonham wielding the hammer of the gods.
“I was lucky because we lived in the countryside,” he explains. “We had quite a big house, but it was semi-detached and just one neighbour, thankfully.”
At school, Pete got into a heavy metal band — covers of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water, and Hold Your Head
Up by Argent a speciality. “And then,” he says, “I saw a DJ at the school disco...” Pete was soon putting on discos himself at Hartley village hall. This would bring the 16-year-old £100 in 50-pence pieces from the takings at the door. A guy who did the security at his father’s betting office made sure the money made it home safely, where young Pete would count it on the kitchen table.
“It was 1975. It was all very innocent. I went around on my bike and I drew all the posters,” he remembers.
“I guess where I really started to make a name for myself in the local community was in a pub called The Nelson in Gravesend. That used to be the meeting spot for a bunch of people from that area who used to go up to London all the time to the cooler clubs...”
Pete was very much underage but, he smiles, they let him into The Nelson anyway because they liked this bright young kid from north Kent, playing a mix of different cultures through his little box of records. “I used to be sat up in the corner with my DJ set-up. Gravesend was an unusual town because at that time, in the 1970s, it had quite a big West Indian community and quite a big Indian community. So I had different flavours. A lot of soul music and reggae.”
“I was also getting turned on to American imports for the first time, and understanding that there was like a secret society of record collectors. You had to be in the know. Then I would go up to London and go to shops like All Ears in Harlsden. My reputation grew. I also worked for a bit in a record store in Gravesend.”
He finished sixth form at school. “I got my O-Levels but I didn’t do that well,” he says. “My parents wanted me to go to uni, but I didn’t want to go. I was already too into music. When I left school, I went and got a Transit van and went DJing.”
Pete was hugely influenced by underground DJs and wanted, he says, “to be part of that gang”. He entered a DJ competition — “it sounds really cheesy” — run by the British Tea Council and got to the final at the Empire in Leicester Square. Cheesetastic BBC DJs Peter Powell and Kid Jensen were the hosts. “I thought I was going to win, and I brought my own crowd up there. I came second. But that night two guys from Blues & Soul magazine came along and said to me that I played the best music. So I got a job at the magazine.”
It was a baptism of fire because they wanted Pete to run around London selling advertising. “Which,” he laughs now, “I had no interest in doing. I was going around to these reggae shops. I got a gun pulled on me!”
Undeterred by firearms, Pete did that for four years, from 1979 to 1983, as well as writing an influential music column and DJ-ing around Britain. “Then, as my name was getting bigger, I got on the radar of the record companies,” he says, and eventually, in 1983, he got a big job at London Records.
“I was in at the deep end,” he says. “One day I would be taking Bananarama around to regional radio stations, and the next day I’d be in New York. I was going to New York a lot.”
He was living in Kent and commuting to London for work in his company car, a 3-Series BMW. One night, he had a horrible accident. Working late and tired, he fell asleep at the wheel coming back from a Bluebells gig.
“The car drifted into the part of an oncoming lorry and as I drifted, I just caught the corner of the lorry and it spun around like that. I woke up as I was hitting it. I thought I was going to die,” he says.
But he lived, and his life changed forever when he met legendary rap impresario and producer Russell Simmons in Manhattan in the mid-1980s. Through that meeting, Pete ended up signing a hip-hop group from Hollis, Queens, New York who wore Adidas sneakers. “I remember we flew Run-DMC over to London to sign them. I took them to an Indian restaurant on the Westbourne Road with Russell, and they finished their meal and they sat on the pavement. We thought we had offended them. And Russell said, ‘No, they’re just like that. They finish their food and they leave the table. They don’t chit-chat.’”
In 1986, when Walk This Way, their collaboration with Aerosmith, became a giant worldwide hit, Run-DMC’s success, Pete recalls, “blew open the doors of the commercial world to the power of rap. It defined a whole new era. Rap wasn’t underground street music any more.” The doors blew off again a year later for Pete. “The year zero was 1986/1987 when house music started and the rave scene started and the stars of that were really the events and in the early 1990s we had all these bands. If you looked at any flier in the 1990s you would never see a DJ at the top. You’d see the Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers or Underworld or Orbital and then that changed and the DJs became the biggest thing in the world...”
It was a long way from Hartley village hall. Pete Tong & the Heritage Orchestra, Saturday, November 24, 6:30pm, 3Arena, Dublin
UNDER ATTACK: From left, Kevin Lunney, chief operations officer, Liam McCaffrey, chief executive officer, and Dara O’Reilly, chief finance officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh. Photo: Oliver McVeigh
HAPPIER TIMES: Sean Quinn celebrates his return with drinks for staff at the company’s headquarters. Photo: Lorraine Teevan