Northern Ireland news

John Bosco O'Hagan: Why am I speaking now? I feel terrible it has got to this point

In the second day of a two-part news special, The Irish News speaks to two QIH executives about the background to efforts by a group of businessmen to save the former Quinn Group companies

Specialist Joinery Group company chairman and founder John Bosco O'Hagan. Picture by Mal McCann

JOHN Bosco O'Hagan wishes he had never tried to help Sean Quinn.

A self-made man, Mr O'Hagan, who hails from Ardboe in Co Tyrone, runs Specialist Joinery.

The Maghera-based company kits out high-end homes and commercial properties with bespoke joinery, particularly in plush London addresses.

Indeed his company successfully tendered for work on the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan when it was owned by Sean Quinn and also carried out some work on the Quinn family's gated mansion nearby.

It was through Mr O'Hagan's friendship with Peter Quinn, Sean's brother and a former president of the GAA, that he later became involved with Ireland's one-time richest man.

Like many others, Mr O'Hagan felt a great sadness when Sean Quinn very publicly lost control of his empire in 2011 after a reckless bet on Anglo Irish Bank shares.

"I know what it is like to run a business. I know what employing people is like and the responsibility that comes with that.

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"I was very friendly with Peter down the years. We talked about Sean and people of the area. And it was through that [connection] that I spoke to Sean and got involved at various levels."

In the autumn of 2012, Mr O'Hagan said he would regularly meet Sean Quinn and his son Sean jnr to discuss how the family could raise money to pay the legal fees for their bitter litigation with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), the name given to the entity formed in 2011 by the court-mandated merger of the state-owned banking institutions Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society.

The Erne Group Trust was set up and Mr O'Hagan became its chairman. It raised "well over €1 million" from 35 people, he said.

"It was agreed over a period of time, by various people attending the meetings, that we would borrow money from various friends, who may be sympathetic to Sean Quinn and the collapse of his business," Mr O'Hagan said.

''The money would be used to fight the litigation."

Mr O'Hagan said none of the money has been paid back via the Erne Trust, through which it was borrowed.

A source close to the Quinn family has told The Irish News that it was correct none of the money had been paid back via the trust but that 29 out of the 35 donors have been paid back directly.

The source added: "We are fully committed to repaying all donations and honouring the spirit in which they were donated."

While this was going on, Mr O'Hagan said Mr Quinn would in 2013 ask him if he would be willing to help out on another front.

Three former senior executives of the Quinn Group were trying to raise money, he said, to put in a bid to buy as much of the business back as they could.

This would secure local jobs and the plan was to eventually parachute Sean Quinn and his family back into control - once they had fought their court case and got in a financial position to do so.

Mr O'Hagan said he would be open to such an approach.

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That approach was made by Liam McCaffrey, who had worked for Sean Quinn for more than 20 years and would ultimately become chief executive of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

Mr McCaffrey had teamed up with Dara O'Reilly, who would become chief financial officer and Kevin Lunney, chief operating officer – the man who last month was abducted outside his home and tortured in a horse box before being dumped on a road side.

Mr O'Hagan would form the Quinn Business Retention Company (QBRC) along with Co Fermanagh businessman Ernie Fisher and then Leitrim Fine Gael councillor and businessman John McCartin. Mr McCartin would join the board of QIH and Mr O'Hagan and Mr Fisher would have no formal role in QIH.

"We had solid reputations and good standing with banks," Mr O'Hagan explained. "As business people we were faces of credibility. So the bid had the former management that could run the place and with us they would have a better chance of borrowing money."

Mr McCaffrey and his team would talk to many, many potential investors. Eventually what transpired was that three of the existing American bondholders in the former Quinn Group - which was now called Aventus - offered to stump up the €98m.

Mr O'Hagan remembers how delighted he was. QBRC took possession of the Construction Industry Supply companies from Aventus on December 14 2014 and immediately renamed it Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

He felt as though he had played a small part in helping to secure local jobs and nudged open the door to Sean Quinn eventually getting back his company.

The American shareholders agreed to give Sean Quinn and his son well-remunerated consultancy roles at the request of Mr McCaffrey and his team.

"I was personally very pleased. For the past one and a half years or more I had driven thousands of miles, attended many meetings, negotiated with many people," said Mr O'Hagan.

"The Quinn men had very good salaries for their consulting activities. The right team was in place and over the next four to five years we could drive the business to a point of buying out the American shareholders and Mr Quinn could come back again. That was the plan."

But he added ``that was not how Sean Quinn saw things'' and relationships would deteriorate.

Mr O'Hagan says he has not wavered from his original commitment - ''to secure jobs and buy out bondholders and give Sean Quinn and family an opportunity to get the business back."

But Mr O'Hagan is no longer on speaking terms with Sean Quinn.

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He recalls losing his cool during a meeting with representatives of the Quinn family not long after after Sean Quinn had agreed in May 2016 with the American shareholders that the end of the road had come with regards his consultancy position.

It was one of a series of bad tempered mediation-type meetings, said Mr O'Hagan.

Heated words were exchanged and Mr O'Hagan said he is thankful to Dara O'Reilly and Kevin Lunney for taking him out of the room to cool down.

"I was thinking what am I doing here," said Mr O'Hagan. "I am not even getting paid. I've had enough.''

In retrospect, the breaking point in the relationship between Mr O'Hagan and Sean Quinn had pre-dated this meeting. The trust he felt had been fractured on December 18 2015, he said.

Mr O'Hagan was asked by Sean Quinn - along with fellow QBRC directors Ernie Fisher and John McCartin - to attend a meeting with "30 or so" concerned managers of QIH who sat beneath the top team.

Sean Quinn and his family would not be there and it was a chance for these people to air their concerns about the top team.

"I said: 'Boys, the door is closed. Ask us what you want and we will be honest. But nothing moves beyond these four walls'."

About a week later, Mr O'Hagan recalled how he met Sean Quinn jnr along with other members of the Quinn family.

Mr O'Hagan left the lunch feeling a little disconcerted. Sean Quinn jnr had been firing questions at him with information that could only have come from someone who had been in that meeting the previous week.

In the New Year, Mr O'Hagan received an email "of about 30 pages" which recorded every word said at the meeting.

"A week or two later again I got the same document but this time with answers underneath everything I had said [at the meeting] with the Quinn family answers in red.''

The Irish News has seen the documents, which detail the family's concern over share arrangements and their call for Liam McCaffrey and Dara O'Reilly to resign.

It troubles Mr O'Hagan that there are still people owed money via the Erne Group Trust, which he helped set up to help the Quinn family pay their legal fees.

"I've driven thousands of miles and put in thousands of hours and I have spent thousands of pounds including £50,000 of my own money into the trust. I have never asked for a penny nor received a penny for my work."

Mr O'Hagan reluctantly admits the toll his involvement with QIH has taken on him.

It was compounded with the attack on Kevin Lunney, whom Mr O'Hagan has grown to know and admire over the years.

"Why am I speaking now? I feel let down. I feel saddened. I feel terrible that this has got to a point of almost murder of one of the finest people in my opinion that I ever met.

"Kevin Lunney is a family man. A highly intelligent businessman, community person. I don't think he would ever have done a wrong thing in his life in my opinion. He is just one of those great people. And to think that those people could pick him up and take him away and do what they did to him. It's awful."

Sean Quinn has repeatedly condemned any of the attacks on the new management and insisted he and his family have no involvement with them.

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