The collapse of the Quinn business empire throws into sharp relief the failures in the Irish and world economy. Irish bankers, like their counterparts all over the world, lent recklessly and Sean Quinn – once top of Ireland’s rich list – was a recipient of some of this largesse to the tune of €2.8 billion.
When the crash came and the scale of the recklessness became apparent, the Quinn empire collapsed under this titanic debt. Jobs were threatened all across Ireland. The insurance division was sold off but with the Irish taxpayer funding a financial black hole in its accounts that could cost £800m.
The Quinn group began as a company manufacturing building materials and ended up a property empire funded by debt. In one way, it was a mirror for modern capitalism, where stunning unregulated greed allowed a casino economy to develop and governments conspired to keep things quiet as long as the bankers kept lending. This reckless lending led to the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market and the whole edifice inevitable came crashing down.
The banks – deemed “too big to fail” were bailed out – but others were not so lucky. Sean Quinn was left with a massive debt to repay and his empire fell, leaving thousands of workers facing the dole.
Whilst many in Fermanagh and Cavan are sympathetic to Quinn, it should not be forgotten that his son was imprisoned because he and other family members were working very hard to put company assets beyond the reach of their creditors, which amounts in a large part to the Irish taxpayer. It also transpired that members of his family have access to an allowance of €2,000 a week, whilst many former employees are now scraping by on benefit.
The Quinn story is about greed and an empire built on debt. At each stage, greedy bankers leeched off the rewards and bonuses this reckless lending accrued. Ordinary people were not the beneficiaries in the “good times” and we must not pay for the collapse the super-rich created.
The Socialist Party calls for the remnants of the Quinn empire to be brought into public ownership, rather than asset-stripped, and all jobs – most of which are in rural areas with high unemployment – guaranteed. The only way to drag ourselves out of the chaos that has followed the 2008 crash is to fight for a socialist society run in the interests of the 99%, not the greed of the 1%.