Northern Ireland news

Dara O'Reilly: It could easily have been me abducted instead of Kevin Lunney

Dara O'Reilly, chief finance officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings, said the attack on his friend and colleague Kevin Lunney was barbaric. Picture by Mal McCann

DARA O'Reilly is sure it could just as easily have been him who was abducted on his way home from work and tortured, rather than his colleague Kevin Lunney.

Mr O'Reilly is the chief financial officer of Quinn Industrial Holdings.

His office is beside Mr Lunney's. They are great friends and their families are close.

Mr O'Reilly and Mr Lunney have been through more together than your typical work colleagues.

On February 1, they were having a bite of lunch together at a service station café when Mr O'Reilly had boiling water thrown over his face and Mr Lunney was punched.

Mr O'Reilly (46) had another narrow escape in October last year. His car was set alight outside the family home one evening while his children were asleep and he and his wife were in bed. The fire spread to the house.

Dara O'Reilly: 'Luckily we all got out'

"Luckily, we all got out and the emergency services, thankfully, then got there in good time and were able to save the house from burning to the ground [and] put the fire out in the car," he said.

"But that was frightening. Frightening for me, frightening for my wife and kids that something like that can happen. You know, probably the place you should feel safest which is your home.

"It could have been so much worse if the wind had been blowing in a different direction that night, or if it had happened later at night when everyone was asleep in the house. So you just, I suppose, thank your lucky stars that nothing worse happened."

The recent attack on Mr Lunney was the most vicious. It crossed the Rubicon and has led Mr O'Reilly and four of his colleagues and business associates to speak to The Irish News about the long-running campaign against them.

The latest threat was issued to Kevin Lunney in the horse box where he was held - Dara O'Reilly, Liam McCaffrey, Kevin Lunney, Tony Lunney and John McCartin must resign or be shot dead.

"What they did to Kevin is unthinkable to somebody like me," said Mr O'Reilly. "Words like barbaric have been used. And that's exactly what it was. To do what was done to Kevin and then to leave him at the side of the road... it's just unthinkable."

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Given the level of threat to Mr O'Reilly and his colleagues, why do these men - all fathers - continue to work at QIH?

It is something that Mr O'Reilly has clearly thought a lot about.

"That’s a difficult question to answer," he says. "And I suppose it's probably driven by why I got involved... back in 2014".

This is when Mr O'Reilly was part of a team of Irish businessmen who launched a successful bid to return the former business empire founded by ex-tycoon Sean Quinn to local management.

"The reason that I got involved in that was to make sure that this business, which is very important to this community, stayed [under the] influence of, and ideally controlled by, the people within this community for the betterment of the community itself and the region.

"We’re all locally born and bred and it means a lot to me to make sure that this community has something that it can be proud of in terms of employing local people and giving local people opportunities."

Mr O'Reilly started working with the Quinn Group in 2000, during boom times. He would quickly ascend to the board of the company and was one of a close knit team working under the boss Sean Quinn.

"He was a tough man to work for," admitted Mr O'Reilly. "His expectations were very high. He was quite driven and I suppose in fairness, you know, he started this business back in the early 1970s and it is a testament to the man that he built it up in this region."

Mr O'Reilly was made redundant in April 2011 on the same day as receivers moved into the company after Mr Quinn's catastrophic bet on Anglo Irish Bank shares.

Mr Quinn had very publicly lost control of the company he had built from nothing.

Three and a half years later Mr O'Reilly would find himself back sitting in a senior management meeting alongside Mr Quinn, who had been hired by the controlling American shareholders as a consultant to the business.

Mr O'Reilly, alongside Liam McCaffrey, Kevin Lunney and three external businessmen, had brokered a deal to reclaim the building supplies and packaging parts of the Quinn empire and they were now calling the shots.

"I suppose it's probably difficult for him in terms of somebody who founded the business, obviously grew the business over the years, coming back into that business in the consultancy role and not being in a position perhaps to run the business in the way that he had ran it for all those years," said Mr O'Reilly.

"I found it particularly difficult, given my executive role, in that I was answering to shareholders, the investors in the business and had to run the business for them. I think as a result of that, that certainly put a lot of strain on the relationship between myself and Sean Quinn.

"I had to carry out my role, I had to do it in the way that any executive director in any business would do it. And that’s really when it started to sour."

Sean Quinn left the businesses as a consultant in May 2016.

The Quinn family has consistently condemned and distanced itself from those attacking the new management.

However, a sinister element in the community in the Fermanagh/Cavan border area continues to vent anger at the demise of Mr Quinn’s empire. Paramilitary involvement is suspected.

The most recent attack on Mr Lunney has been something of a wake-up call to police on both sides of the border, suggests Mr O'Reilly.

He said there certainly appeared to be "a significant escalation in terms of resources being put into [the investigation]".

"I think if there’s one message for the PSNI or the gardaí," he added, "we’ve been saying about these various incidents of intimidation, sabotage, attacks on the business for quite some time. We weren't saying those things lightly, we weren’t saying them for the sake of saying them. I think there should have been more of an onus on the security forces on both sides of the border to take those things seriously.

"Where we live, from where we operate here, is in a very unique area of the country. It's right on the border. That, I know, has challenges for the PSNI and the Gardai operating in different jurisdictions but I think it’s high time that some system is developed to work hand in hand with each other to fix these issues, because not just does it affect this business and the individuals involved in it, it affects the whole area it affects the whole border region.

"There has to be a long term solution."

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