Happy man: sports presenter Jerome Quinn on life after the BBC
Seven years after he was sacked from BBC Northern Ireland, Jerome Quinn says he's a much happier and better man today. Now it's the thrill and the craic of covering GAA sports throughout the world that makes him tick, he tells Joanne Sweeney
REGARDED as the face and voice of GAA coverage in Northern Ireland before he was sacked by the BBC seven years ago, today former TV sports presenter Jerome Quinn says that he's a better and a happier man since his much publicised fall from grace.
In a drama that was inevitably played out in the full glare of the media, the Co Tyrone native was dismissed from his high-profile job in 2009 for gross misconduct after he criticised BBC Northern Ireland's GAA coverage online.
He took a case against the corporation, alleging unfair dismissal and racial discrimination, including a claim of a “Protestant and British prejudice” within the organisation; he lost, his allegations rejected by an industrial tribunal, and, as far as many outside the Gaelic games 'family' will be concerned, hasn't been heard of since.
However, as those within the GAA family will know, Quinn is now once again immersed in that world – and loving it.
You'll not just find him treading well-worn paths to Clones and Casement Park, however; these days Quinn works throughout the world, covering Gaelic games as they develop on a global scale. He was in Dresden last week for the European Hurling and Camogie Championships, for instance, posting match reports and interviews on his popular social media platforms. While there, he filmed an interview at the Brandenburg Gate with two Iraqi refugees who have taken up hurling in Berlin.
He's been to the more typical Irish ex-pat destinations of the United States, Australia and even the Middle East but he's soon off to Shanghai and Bahrain on another of his wandering-minstrel GAA-reporter journeys. So far, in reinventing himself as a self-employed "online international web video GAA journalist" he has made more than 40 trips to 18 countries.
Speaking to me in his Belfast home, Quinn looks and sounds very relaxed, having enjoyed a spin class earlier in the day. His four children – two sons and two daughters aged from 17 to 28 – are all doing well in their careers or in education and, as a single man, Quinn enjoys the luxury of being able to take up the offers from around the world to do the job that he loves.
While it's not presenting a live flagship programme covering the All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Armagh as he did in 2003, Quinn says he still gets the same buzz that he first got from reporting on Gaelic football in his early years with the BBC.
"I actually feel more valued in the work sense now. I get such good feedback from it," he tells me. "It reminds me when I first started doing Gaelic games on the BBC."
Having moved on from his bruising adversarial battle with his former employers, Quinn describes himself as "a much better person now".
"Professionally, I've done so much that I would ever have dreamt of doing or would have been able to do as I would have been tied to an organisation," he tells me.
"Personally, I've had to do a lot of stuff that has brought me to a completely different place. I've done Buddhist mediation, mindfulness, and yoga. I'm not as unhappy as I was then. I probably have a lot more respect for other people and also for myself as I had to like myself more as well. That's the bottom line."
However, he admits: "It hasn't been easy; it has been very difficult at times."
Omagh-born Quinn joined the BBC in 1989 as a young sports journalist after having spent a short time working as a GAA reporter with The Irish News and before that as a news reporter on Radio Foyle.
From working in the background as a producer for several years, his knowledge and interest in GAA was used to good effect when he was asked to cover Gaelic matches.
When BBC Northern Ireland launched its Championship programme in 1990, to wide acclaim and support from the nationalist community, Quinn anchored it for 17 years as well as covering two Commonwealth Games.
He claimed at his unsuccessful 2010 tribunal that he was the first Catholic to be employed in the corporation's sports department in Belfast and that he was gradually sidelined after making a comment in an online column to the effect that Belfast's Windsor Park, home stadium of the Northern Ireland side, was still unwelcoming to Catholic soccer supporters.
Despite his previous and undisputed success, Quinn now says that television presenting was not really his natural home.
"I often found it a struggle and a bit of a drudge. I didn't really enjoy it and found it hard work," he confesses. "I was on [television] far too young. All of a sudden I was this person who was supposed to be me but who really wasn't. Now I have spent the last five years or so finding out who I am and finding out what I want out of life, and asking myself a lot of important questions.
"I really feel that I'm a much better, rounded person for the whole experience."
Just as he supported the coverage of Gaelic games on television, the GAA at home and abroad has supported Quinn ever since.
He said of his early days of self-employment: "A number of doors were closed to me because of the tribunal, but I reinvented myself as an online videographer, using my journalistic skills and improving my camera skills.
"I also needed support and got it from Ulster GAA, Ulster Colleges GAA, Tyrone GAA and later from the Camogie Association, Ladies Gaelic Football, Higher Education GAA and from the GAA abroad – and I'm very grateful.
"I travel around the world and I've made so many good friends all over through Facebook and Twitter. I get so much goodwill, whether it's from people coming up to me to say 'It's good to see you,' or to invite me along to dinner or out for a drink. The reaction I get is just so welcoming and I find it really gratifying."
Quinn says he has adopted a new life motto – 'When nothing is certain anything is possible' – and that it sums up his life over the past five years.
But should some of the major television broadcasters come knocking on his door again, would he be tempted?
"I would find it very difficult [to say yes] as you like to become your own boss," he responds. "I don't like people now telling me 'You can do that' or 'You can't do that'. I like being able to do my own thing.
"But if they'd pay me enough, I would think about it."
Although Quinn has obviously made peace with the end of his BBC career and the embarrassment of the industrial tribunal, it's still something that he is known by.
When asked whether with the benefit of hindsight he would still have made those online comments, he replies: "The answer would be no because I could then have avoided all the controversy and unhelpful attention. I would have preferred to have negotiated a better way to leave. I would still have liked to have got out and do what I have done since."
He adds: "No-one likes being associated with losing their job and I definitely don't like being associated with sectarianism in any shape or form. I'm about looking forward, not back."
::You can follow Jerome Quinn's work on Twitter @JeromeQuinn; Facebook at JeromeQuinn Media or at jeromequinnmedia.com