The occasion was the sentencing of Frank Dunlop at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in May 2009. Dunlop had pleaded guilty to corruption charges arising from his activities as a lobbyist for developers in the early and mid-1990s. By his own evidence to the Planning Tribunal, he had been at the centre of a web of corruption, and when he was charge he held his hands up.
He got two years in the slammer, with six months suspended. The familiar face in court was Sean Boylan, renowned herbalist, and, even more renowned and successful, Gaelic football manager.
Boylan was quite obviously in attendance to offer support. Loyalty to friends in trouble is an admirable quality, but Boylan’s gesture was even more notable. At the time, Dunlop was a pariah, and few friends still in contact with him in private would have been seen dead with him in public. Not Boylan. He was bigger than that.
Boylan was also among the list of major GAA figures who showed up at a rally for Sean Quinn and his family in Co Cavan last July. Others included Jarleth Burns and Mickey Harte, and former player and current pundit, Colm O’Rourke. Well-known priest Fr Brian Darcy was also to the fore. The occasion generated some controversy, and it will be interesting to see whether the same figures will attend at the next rally, scheduled for tomorrow week.
Like Dunlop, the Quinns are in big trouble, although their travails are not of a criminal nature, but mired in financial and legal difficulties. On one level, it’s admirable that friends from the big GAA family show support for a family which has experienced a steep fall in its fortunes.
Once upon a time, the Quinns were worth more than €1bn. Now they claim to be broke. The conduct of Quinn and his family since the collapse of their empire has been lambasted from the bench of the High Court. Sean Jnr is doing chokey for contempt, and his first cousin Peter is effectively a fugitive from the jurisdiction. So on a human level, it’s not just understandable, but admirable, that public figures in the GAA went to stand shoulder to shoulder with their fallen friends. That’s what real friends are for.
Similarly, the Fermanagh GAA establishment is onside. At the county final in Enniskillen last Sunday, an appeal was issued over the PA system for patrons to attend next week’s rally. The Quinns had a long reputation of being good to the game locally, and now it was time to stand by them in their hour of need.
Again, loyalty is an admirable quality. But what kind of support are all of these people providing? Are they offering moral support for friends in trouble? Or are they, wittingly or otherwise, backing the Quinns’ campaign to defy both the rule of law and welsh on their debt to the citizens, through a State-owned bank?
Last week, the Supreme Court heard about one alleged method the family designed to siphon off money that should be going towards the €2bn the family owes the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).
Members of the family signed employment contracts with Russian companies that would entitle them to tens of millions of euro if the employment was terminated. They also signed a contract that would pay out up to €7.5m each if any were victims of an “assassination attempt“. These contracts were signed days after a High Court order to freeze all Quinn assets. The move, the court has heard, was an obvious attempt to siphon off money beyond the reach of the bank, and in defiance of the court order.
Supporters of the family have opened up another front. A group calling themselves variously Concerned Irish Citizens and Concerned Irish Businesses is fronting a major PR campaign. A spokesman has claimed that the group has received pledges amount to “around €2m” for the Quinns to take a legal case against the bank.
The spokesman on the radio is vague about details of the alleged contributions, but the message being transmitted is that a number of serious businesspeople are backing the Quinns. Surprisingly, none of these wealthy benefactors have made themselves known. To do so might lend ballast to the Quinn case. Do they really exist at all?
On another front, politicians are being set a glossy two page leaflet brimming with propaganda. A copy seen by this column has a photograph of Sean Quinn Jnr at the top of one page, with the quote: “Anglo have put this man in jail because he wouldn’t agree to their illegal theft of his companies“.
Of course Anglo or IBRC, didn’t put anybody in jail. A judge of the High Court did that on the basis that Quinn had held the court in contempt. The leaflet also makes numerous allegations about “Anglo’s management” at a time when individuals who could be identified as being referenced thus, are before the courts on criminal charges. That’s all apart from the raft of allegations that pepper the leaflet, with no evidence to back any of them up. Also included are the phone numbers of individuals like Alan Dukes, who chairs the bank, and former attorney general Paul Gallagher, who represents the bank as a senior counsel. Readers are urged to voice their support by ringing these numbers, and, presumably, leaving a polite message.
The spiel on the leaflet ends as follows: “Finally, we in Concerned Irish Citizens and Concerned Irish Business, with a mandate of more than 90,000 signatures of support, are demanding an enquiry into how the Government allowed Anglo to appoint a receiver to Quinn companies on foot of these illegal loans, before the debt was proven in court.”
That is the depth which some supporters of the Quinn family are plumbing. While the family allegedly attempts to siphon off money contrary to the law, their supporters are waging a propaganda campaign that is ultimately attempting to undermine the law.
It would be interesting to survey the 90,000 who allegedly signed a petition. Did they know exactly what they were signing up for? Do they condone the carry-on of the family and these entities that describe themselves as concerned?
How does the whole thing sit with people of integrity like Boylan, or O’Rourke — a school principle, or Darcy — a priest, for God’s sake — and the others, who are all widely respected figures? Much of the detail outlined above wasn’t in the public domain at the time of the last rally, but surely everybody is a bit wiser now. Is it possible for friends or public figures to show up at next week’s rally as a gesture of goodwill, yet distance themselves from the carry-on of the family or their supporters?
Time will tell. There’s a world of difference between displaying loyalty to a friend in trouble and condoning the continued efforts of a brazen family to defy the law and siphon off money before it can be repaid to the citizens.
It’s make-your-mind-up time, lads.