Northern Ireland news

QIH chief executive Liam McCaffrey: For two hours we didn't know if Kevin was alive or dead

LAST month a hard-working businessman from the small border town of Derrylin was abducted by masked men and tortured.

Kevin Lunney's fingernails were sliced down to the quick and the initials of the business where he works - QIH - were carved into his chest with a Stanley knife.

He also had his leg broken in two places with an iron bar.

The perpetrators read out the names of five men - his colleagues at QIH - who they said would be shot dead if they did not resign from their roles in Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

In a two-day news special, The Irish News speaks to the five men involved about the terrifying campaign of intimidation and their united determination to face down those behind the sinister threats.

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LIAM McCaffrey (56) was out for a run with his dog Alfie after work on the evening of Tuesday September 17.

When he got back into his house in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, he picked up his mobile phone. There were five missed calls.

The calls were all from Tony Lunney, the production director at Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH), the company where Mr McCaffrey is chief executive.

Just as he was preparing to call back, Mr McCaffrey's phone started buzzing. It was a distressed Tony Lunney again.

"He said Kevin [Lunney] had been attacked and asked was I safe. I said I was. He then said Kevin's car is on fire and we don't know whether he is in it or not.

"So that was the way I found out about it. I changed and went out to the site. By that stage the fire was out and we knew that Kevin was not in the car. The wait began until word of Kevin eventually came through.

"For a two-hour period we didn't know whether he was alive or dead."

While the abduction and vicious attack on Kevin Lunney has shocked Ireland, it has confirmed some of the worst fears of those familiar with the QIH story.

Mr McCaffrey believes the attack was carried out by paid criminals and is linked to a campaign of intimidation and violence directed at the men now running Quinn Industrial Holdings.

There is no doubt that the abduction and torture of Kevin Lunney was connected to the business - the letters QIH were carved into his chest by an assailant armed with a Stanley knife while death threats were issued against Mr Lunney and four fellow executives.

In late 2014, there was a €98 million buyout of the former Quinn Group by a consortium of local businessmen backed by American investors.

Three of the men crucial to the deal were Mr McCaffrey, Mr Lunney and Dara O'Reilly, long term employees of the former Quinn Group. These men had been made redundant on the same day the receiver took over Sean Quinn's company in April 2011.

Mr McCaffrey said: "The latest phase of intimidation really started in the tail end of 2015 when a pig's head was left outside one of the directors' houses. He had taken some of his kids to The Slieve Russell Hotel for a children's Christmas party and the kids would come back to find it. "

A lot of the abuse was directed at them online.

But it was not just a social media crusade, it morphed into real-world violence.

Liam McCaffrey: 'The message in universal... Don't give up''

QIH have logged 70-plus incidents from 2015 to present.

It has been an enormously frustrating and at times incredibly stressful few years for Mr McCaffrey and the QIH senior management team.

Mr McCaffrey hoped that the trouble would fizzle out as the company began to thrive again.

Since the acquisition in late 2014 turnover has jumped 50 per cent to €240m last year and there has been a four-fold increase to €26.4m in Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA is a measure of profitability).

The workforce has grown by about 200 staff to 830.

It was wishful thinking, however, that the good financial figures would end the vitriol directed at them.

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Chief Executive of Quinn Industrial Holdings Liam McCaffrey Picture Mal McCann

On August 23 2018 anger was evident at a public meeting in Ballyconnell.

The group’s chairman Adrian Barden later wrote to staff warning of a “resumption of false allegations and intimidation against QIH, its owners, officers and staff”.

He alleged “physical intimidation” against people linked to QIH.

Hours after Mr Barden's letter was sent, a suspected arson attack was carried out by persons unknown at a Cavan tyre plant owned by Kevin Lunney's brother Tony, a senior manager at QIH.

Mr McCaffrey said: "The letter went out at about 3.30pm that afternoon. At about 11.20pm that night the arson attack on Tony Lunney's factory happened... regrettably there has been an escalation of violence ever since."

Liam McCaffrey has a long association with the Quinn Group going back to when it was owned by businessman Sean Quinn, once Ireland's richest man, who built up a multi-national company bringing employment to thousands of people.

Mr McCaffrey first met Mr Quinn when he was sent by a Dublin accountancy firm to Derrylin for a routine audit of part of the Quinn Group.

When he was later asked to join the Quinn stable he returned to live close to where he was brought up in Marlbank by the Marble Arch Caves.

"From 1990 onwards it was a fun time in the business," recalled Mr McCaffrey. "The Irish economy was doing well... Quinn Group had grown from small business into a large multinational group, from just a cement business to a company encompassing insurance, property, radiators, glass etc, etc."

Difficulties started after Mr Quinn's well documented bet on Anglo Irish bank shares before the 2008 financial crash would later leave the business nursing a multi-billion debt.

In April 2011 Mr Quinn lost control of his company.

"We had all been working together to try and save the business," Mr McCaffrey said. "There were opportunities, I think, to save the business and keep it whole but we were never able to persuade Sean to make the necessary compromises to allow that to happen."

These were tough times and Mr McCaffrey admits that looking back he feels like he "fundamentally failed" to persuade Mr Quinn to take "a more conservative approach with regards his exposure to Anglo Irish shares."

Three years later Mr McCaffrey, alongside his former colleagues Dara O'Reilly, Kevin Lunney and Tony Lunney, came together to attempt to raise money to buy back Mr Quinn's former empire, which had been renamed Aventus.

Mr McCaffrey said Mr Quinn was privy to all these negotiations and in fact was central to the bringing together of three prominent Irish businessmen - John McCartin (Newtowngore Engineering and until recently a Leitrim Fine Gael councillor), John Bosco O'Hagan (Specialist Joinery Group in Maghera) and Ernie Fisher (formerly of Co Fermanagh-based Fisher Engineering).

They would become directors of QBRC, the company set up to represent the local shareholders and managers in QIH. Eight QIH managers and the three QBRC directors would hold 22 per cent of shares in the new company. None of the men would put their own equity into the company. Their shares would be non-voting shares, which carried heavily restricted rights, including restrictions on any transfers to third parties.

Three of the existing American bondholders financed and supported the QBRC deal and to this day remain the main shareholders in QIH with the controlling 78 per cent.

The Americans would not countenance a return of Sean Quinn to an executive position, Mr McCaffrey said. Mr Quinn had been declared bankrupt, served a short jail sentence for contempt of court and was fighting a legal battle against the successor to Anglo Irish Bank, the Irish state-owned IBRC.

But Mr McCaffrey and team persuaded them to hire Mr Quinn as a QIH consultant.

Mr Quinn would receive €500,000 a year and be the highest paid member of the QIH team. His son Sean Quinn Jnr would get €100,000 per annum. Mr Quinn would return to his old chair in his old office in Derrylin, where he first began building his cement company on his family farm into a multi million pound conglomerate.

Mr McCaffrey explained: "We lobbied on behalf of Sean... the financiers wouldn't countenance a role for Sean as a director or shareholder of the business. But they were prepared to provide him with a consultancy contract at a lucrative fee.

"We thought that would allow Sean an opportunity to rehabilitate himself, to put some of the issues of the past behind him and potentially in the future nothing was closed in terms of if he could put himself in a position to buy out the business."

On the first day that QBRC took possession of the business, Mr Quinn arrived - as did press photographers - to much jubilation and backslapping from the crowds who had gathered. He served out whiskey and beer.

However, the relationship would later sour.

Mr McCaffrey said despite having given his blessing to the deal, Mr Quinn apparently felt the consultancy agreement was not enough.

''He wanted in effect control, as if he wanted to run the business." Mr McCaffrey said.

Later, Mr Quinn would accuse Mr McCaffrey of stealing from the business. Two investigations were carried out and Mr McCaffrey was exonerated.

"Ultimately those issues gave rise to a breakdown in the relationship that came to a head in 2016 when the financiers in the business in effect agreed with Sean that his role would terminate. I know he is now presenting it that he was sacked and probably the truth is that if he hadn't agreed the termination then he would have been sacked."

There were several attempts to mediate. There was a committee set up with the Quinn family. They were fraught meetings and were ultimately abandoned.

The relationship had irrevocably broken down.

For his part, Mr Quinn has been critical of his former colleagues and the role he claims they played in his removal as a senior adviser to the company.

He has also consistently condemned and distanced himself from those attacking the new management and said he is no longer interested in seeking ownership of his former businesses.

"I don’t want to be seen as being the beneficiary of abuse or criminal activity," he said.

However, a sinister element in the community in the Fermanagh/Cavan border area has continued to vent anger at the demise of Mr Quinn’s empire.

Paramilitary involvement is suspected.

A few recent incidents have included:

:: The car of Tony Lunney's daughter was burned outside their family home

:: The car of Dara O'Reilly, the chief finance officer, was set alight outside his home while his children lay sleeping. He later also had scalding water thrown on his face while in a local restaurant.

;; Kevin Lunney was punched in the face at the same time Mr O'Reilly was scalded.

:: A death threat was issued to the directors in May.

Last month, on that Tuesday evening when Kevin Lunney was being tortured in a horse box, he was told that five of his colleagues must 'resign or be shot'.

Kevin Lunney, Liam McCafferty, Dara O'Reilly, Tony O'Reilly and John McCartin have not resigned.

Why do they remain?

"I suppose it is a good question and one which my family ask me," Mr McCaffrey reflected.

"If we start to succumb to this type of mafia-style intimidation then where does the business end up? I would suggest that all of the jobs are at threat if we start to give into this type of activity.

"When I go to the shop or the factory floor or when I go to speak to customers the message is universal - stick with it, don't give up, don't be intimidated," he said.

There has been a much welcome and long sought increase in police involvement in the last month both north and south of the border, Mr McCaffrey said.

He is emphatic that police must now put an end to this once and for all.

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