Public sympathy, Patriotism and the Quinn Empire
In Ireland there is a very noble, but often abused, sentiment, that you should never forget your friends or where you came from. This philosophy is admirable on so many levels. It represents a loyalty that often underpins so much of what we value. The problem is that such an idea is often taken advantage of, or applied incorrectly. It is possible to have a friend, to understand them and to feel sympathy for them while still remaining critical when they do something wrong. There is no harm in trusting or admiring someone but also not being blind to their faults and failings.
The Quinn saga is taking up endless amounts of column space lately. The rally in Cavan in support of Quinn only served to polarise the issue and did little to resolve matters either way. Quite clearly Sean Quinn was a man who people admired, one of their own, and as such, people were proud of him. His support for local causes or for the GAA reminded them that he had not left the country to live the high life but always remembered his roots. We like that in a person.
Unfortunately it can also make us blind to obvious faults. Our country has been savaged by such loyalties. Friendships, trust of peoples word, a belief in not asking awkward questions all played a part in arriving at our current mess.
Recently Fintan O’Toole wrote a piece stating just why the Quinn issue was so serious. In this he outlined all the cuts and hardships being experienced by so many and how the total income from such cuts would still only equal what Sean Quinn owed to the state. It did leave me a little cold. I am by no means a left winger, but one cannot help but feel that if we were to get a few tax exiles, and a few of those who are currently evading what they owe to buck up and do their duty by their fellow citizens we could actually save an awful lot of hardship on so many ordinary people depending on vital services.
Now, there are those who pointed out that in O’Toole’s article he mentions that Quinn owes the money because the state took on his debts. There is a very reasonable argument that this should never have happened and indeed it’s an argument Sean Quinn would fully support. However, think on this. This country has been destroyed by a system that allows sharp practice to continue without proper regulation. Where people using vast sums were allowed do as they pleased until they broke the entire system and left it hanging over the edge of an abyss, they then came crawling to the taxpayer to sort out the mess. Even as they were asking for the bank guarantee, dodgy deals were being signed between banks to cover up debts, in the firm belief, like all gamblers, that just one more bet could help them hide all the losses.
Sean Quinn has demonstrated that he was certainly involved in questionable practice as regards Anglo Irish Bank, its shares, loans and his use of collateral. His dealings in Quinn insurance again demonstrated that he saw no issue in playing hard and fast with the financial rules if he thought a gamble was worth it. Finally, he showed that he was willing to ignore courts or laws where necessary to move money about to avoid suffering personally. So given where such practices have left Ireland do we really believe that the loans should still be managed by Sean Quinn? The state has sadly taken on the debt but in some ways it is a necessary evil, the state must ensure Quinn pays his part in alleviating the burden on the state now as he has manifestly proven himself unworthy of dealing with these loans or companies in a proper manner. Perhaps the state should never have had a guarantee or been involved with Anglo, but either way that could not save Sean Quinn because we can no longer afford to allow millionaires do as they please in the running of their affairs and blatantly ignore rules or laws. It is such practice that caused the mess and the state must show that those days are over.
It is understandable that people who worked for the Quinn empire feel a loyalty towards it. However, work is not a charity. Nobody pays you just for the sake of it. All workers at Quinn did their job and were paid accordingly. Their work delivered the huge profits that Quinn and his family accumulated. As in any work contract both sides derived benefit.
Peter Darragh Quinn is now ignoring the warrant for his arrest. His family’s belief that he cannot get a fair hearing is both an insult to the Irish judicial process and the Irish people. It is further proof of a family believing that they are somehow equal to the system and society. That they are a partner of society rather than a part of it. To listen to the language one would almost believe that there was some high patriotic ideal at stake here. There is not. It comes down to nothing more than the grubby issue of money. It comes down to peoples desire to hold on to it. Sean Quinn was a billionaire and built his empire on a stable foundation a long time ago. He could easily have been content, overseeing his businesses being run properly and perhaps devoting the rest of his days to charitable causes. Instead there was always one more deal to be made, one more gamble to be taken, one more opportunity to be seized. Even though the financial gains were no longer necessary, it was still a gamble worth taking. No matter how you look at it there was either an addiction to the thrill of the deal or there was just plain greed at play. In the end it brought the entire empire crashing down.
The sad thing is that as living expenses were awarded by the courts it is quite clear that what is being fought over is one family’s adjustment from the wealthy billionaire lifestyle to the simple plain wealthy lifestyle. Of course that is not easy and no one should take any pleasure in seeing it but had the Quinn’s really not forgotten where they came from then this might not be such a big adjustment. There will be no rallies or offers of community support for the people who will lose their homes to banks this year. There will be no outcries of injustice on behalf of any ordinary individual in the dole queue. Hundreds of small businesses will close their doors and their owners forced to deal with the debts from this but nobody will notice too much or write about their story. The cuts to home care, the cuts to education assistants, the cuts to elderly and health will all be taken on the chin as we put the shoulder to the wheel. We are a nation that is patriotic, a people that is willing to believe and sacrifice. The real shame is that as one climbs the wealth ladder, the belief in sacrifice and patriotism obviously wanes.