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John McCartin: Every time the car in front slows I think, God, is this it? Is this the end?

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

Quinn Industrial Holdings executive John McCartin. Picture by Mal McCann

JOHN McCartin doesn't like to see the car in front slow to a halt on the narrow country roads around where he lives in Newtowngore.

"Every time it happens," he explains, "I think: God is this it? Is this the end?"

Mr McCartin (44), a businessman and until earlier this year a Fine Gael councillor in Co Leitrim of 10 years' standing, has lived with the worry of an attack for several years but it has become all-consuming since the paramilitary-style abduction last month of Kevin Lunney, a colleague and a friend.

Mr Lunney was abducted on the lane way to his house and savagely beaten and tortured by a group of masked men in a horse box.

"I don't like to say I'm a coward but I definitely do consider numerous times a day I am in danger here," said Mr McCartin, who is a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH), the company where Mr Lunney is chief operating officer.

"When I was a young man I would take loads of risks. But I have five children now and it is a different story. And while I have never been paralysed by fear I do have to consider that there are deeper consequences if something happens to me now."

Mr McCartin was one of the key deal makers behind an audacious and ultimately successful bid in 2014 to bring back the Quinn Building Products and Quinn Packaging assets under local management with the help of American investors.

The company would become Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH).

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In 2011, Sean Quinn had dramatically lost the company he had built from scratch after betting hundreds of million of euro on the share price of Anglo Irish Bank.

He would in 2012 be declared bankrupt and would spend nine weeks in prison for contempt of court.

Mr McCartin recalls how in 2012 or 2013 he received a call from Mr Quinn out of the blue asking him for advice.

They agreed to meet.

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Mr McCartin told Mr Quinn that he did not believe there was going to be a political solution to getting him his business empire back.

"I said a political solution is not the answer. It's going to be a business solution.

"I kind of felt at that stage I had said ‘I'm useless to you. Happy to talk but I'm of no strategic interest to you because this isn't going to be a political solution’."

Fast forward to late 2014. Mr McCartin and a team of Irish businessmen had raised money to buy Mr Quinn's former building and packaging operations.

They were on top of the world.

It was, they were convinced, a tremendous deal in which three of the biggest debtholders in Aventus (formerly the Quinn Group) were putting up the €98 million to acquire the business.

The local team, fronted by a vehicle called Quinn Business Retention Company (QBRC), would hold 22 per cent of the shares. They would not put any of their own equity into the new company and the shares would be non voting and carry heavily restricted rights, including restrictions on any transfers to third parties.

The American investors would be majority shareholders with 78 per cent.

But local jobs would be back under local management.

They had even persuaded the reluctant American investors to agree a €500,000 consultancy role for Sean Quinn and €100,000 for his son Sean Quinn jnr.

While they didn't need Mr Quinn's signature for the takeover to go ahead, they all wanted his approval.

Mr McCartin recalls: "Even when I was asked [by the new former Quinn Group management] will you be bringing Quinn in here [when the takeover is complete], I would have said: 'God I hope so. I hope that we will employ Sean Quinn and over the course of the two or three or four years or however long it takes for these American investors to decide to flip it or refinance, that Sean Quinn will have settled his litigation in Dublin, he'll have rehabilitated his image and he'd be the man to do it.

"We were upfront with our plan, even with our investors who thought we were crazy to have anything to do with him. They didn't want anything to do with him but we insisted. First of all we wanted to do it and secondly I wouldn't have wanted to try and do it without him."

Mr McCartin had been briefing Mr Quinn every step of the way through the negotiation process. He was privy to all the documents, said Mr McCartin, and all the correspondence was shared with him.

"He had absolutely everything," Mr McCartin said.

A source close to the Quinn family disputes this, saying they were not privy to all the detail of the deal.

A spokesperson for Silver Point, one of the investors, declined to comment.

It came as a shock to Mr McCartin at a meeting in The Enniskillen Hotel, when Mr Quinn said 'no' to the deal they had been working on for the best part of a year, he said.

"Sean was fully behind it right up until the moment we had to put ink on paper and sign the deal," Mr McCartin said. "Then he wanted us to go back and renegotiate.''

"And we said back to Sean, 'Jesus we're in for a song and in control of management. We are on the pig's back here.' I do remember him being very belligerent in a meeting in The Enniskillen Hotel."

Dara O'Reilly, a former member of Mr Quinn's top team and the chief financial officer of QIH, put it to his former boss: "Are you supporting this or not Sean?"

Mr Quinn grabbed Mr McCartin's car keys off the table and walked out, saying he was going for a drive.

"He didn't even ask me for the car. By the time he came back though he had changed his mind and had decided he would go with it."

Crisis over. Or so they thought.

On the day they took possession of the Derrylin headquarters, Mr McCartin posed for pictures carrying a sledgehammer and a drill as the Aventus sign was symbolically taken down from the building. Mr Quinn handed out drinks to employees.

A smiling John McCartin in December 2014 gets ready to dismantle the Aventas Group sign at the former Quinn Group HQ in Derrylin. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

One fly in the ointment was a decision by the American investors to dispose of the former Quinn glass manufacturing asset. Sean Quinn "wanted that stopped" and the Spanish company poised to sign a €400m deal offered the businessman time to find a buyer. No buyer was found, the deal went ahead and a subsequent meeting between the Spanish company and Sean Quinn was “ugly” according to McMcCartin.

Meanwhile, Mr Quinn had taken up residence in his old office in the Derrylin headquarters.

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"He is acting like the man in charge," Mr McCartin said. "He is issuing instructions around the quarries and issuing instructions here there and everywhere around the business. Looking for people to be fired and people to be hired."

Mr Quinn later accused Mr McCaffrey of stealing from the company, Mr McCartin said.

Two investigations, costing thousands of pounds, cleared Mr McCaffrey.

As a backdrop to all this, pre-dating the QIH takeover there had been a series of threats and vandalism directed towards those running former Quinn businesses or those trying to buy them.

A threatening element in the community in the Fermanagh/Cavan border area continued to vent anger at the demise of Mr Quinn’s empire. Mr Quinn and his family have repeatedly condemned the threats and attacks against the new management.

Mr McCartin was confident that it would all be put to bed when the company was back under local management with Mr Quinn back as a consultant.

But he was wrong. The violence and vandalism would, if anything, ramp up not long after QIH took control.

He cites threats being made, including one encounter where he was told that Liam McCaffrey, the QIH chief executive, would be leaving the business 'feet first or head first'.

Mr McCartin feels let down on many fronts, given that he and his colleagues now "operate under a cloud of threats and intimidation and defamation."

"I tell you where we are now. Very important work did get done. The jobs are there. I think about 200 more working at QIH than when we started... If that is all I got for my annoyance and hardship then that is worth it."

Mr McCartin is critical of the PSNI and An Garda Síochána and said requests for meetings with senior officers “haven’t been taken seriously”.

"70 acts of sabotage and destruction against the company and not one person brought to justice for it.''

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