Nationalise the Quinn Group

Few people can imagine what €4,000million looks like, but that is just what Sean Quinn lost through gambling on the casino they call the stockmarket. As a result of this grotesque speculation and lust for profits, thousands of honest workers directly employed by the Quinn Group are to lose their jobs, not to mention the thousands of other workers whose jobs are dependent on the Quinn Group. Sean Quinn lost this sum speculating that the depressed price of Anglo-Irish Bank shares would recover. However, he did not gamble by buying shares but by buying ‘Contracts for Difference’ (CFDs) amounting to 25% of the bank’s shares. Such a highly leveraged strategy can yield massive returns but if things go wrong the losses can be just as great.

Instead of the shares going up in price as he hoped, they went down. Seeing this and in a vain attempt to recover €900 million in losses at that point, he went doubles or quits. Incredibly, Anglo-Irish Bank loaned him the money to purchase their own shares to buy-out 60% of his CFDs and gave loans to a golden circle of ten other investors to buy the remainder. However, when the Irish government was forced to bail-out the Anglo-Irish in late 2008, those shares become worthless.

The Quinn Group was left facing debts amounting to €1.3 billion and the Quinn family owed Anglo-Irish a further €2.8 billion. Despite this the Group’s operations continued to be profitable with pre-tax profits (before exceptional items) of €466m in 2008, and €530m in 2007. These were before a payment of €762m to the Quinn family!

The net result is the loss of 900 jobs of which about a half are to go in Fermanagh and Cavan. But a significant question mark continues to hover over the heads of all remaining 7,000 Quinn Group employees, as without the income from the Insurance operation it is unclear how the Group can continue to keep the bondholders satisfied. The decision to raise insurance premiums 50% will only further exacerbate the likelihood of further job losses in Quinn Insurance.

This scale of redundancies will devastate Fermanagh and will bring hardship to many innocent families. Taken in concert with the anticipated cutbacks across the public sector this will leave the county an unemployment wasteland for a generation. Already hundreds of young people are emigrating and thousands are caught in a debt-trap as house prices plummet. Many businesses in the area look vulnerable as Quinn workers’ wages are the backbone of the economy.

This must not be allowed happen. The option of leaving the Quinn Group in the hands of individuals who are only interested in making huge profits will only result in further job losses. The Socialist Party is calling for Government to intervene and nationalise the Quinn Group as the only sure way to safeguard all the jobs. However, our vision of nationalisation has nothing in common with the way the Irish government has safeguarded the interests of property speculators and developers through its bailout of Anglo-Irish Bank. The workers themselves should be given authority to democratically manage the business in the interests of communities who rely on these jobs, not for wealthy individuals to cream off the profits. The range of activities conducted by the Group offers an opportunity to the workers and representatives of the wider working class to draw up an integrated plan of production which would not just save jobs, but could create thousands of new jobs. For instance a massive housing building programme should be launched to provide affordable and social housing for the 40,000 people currently on the housing waiting list. A publically-owned Quinn Group could easily be a vehicle for such a job creation programme.

It is crucial that Quinn Group workers now begin to organise independently and tap into the great reserve of support within the wider trade union movement. Mass demonstrations should be organised to call for action by the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to intervene and bring the company into public ownership. The exploits of the Quinn Group owners highlight just why workers representatives would be more responsible in managing the company. One man’s greed should never be able to consign a whole region to economic devastation.

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