“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever” what Martin Scorsese, in his movie “The Departed”, says Sigmund Freud said about the Irish. In fact the attribution is disputed by Freud’s descendants and curators of the Freud London museum, who say there is no proof he ever said it. Damn! It was nice when we thought we were unique..
The Quinn family saga might have temporarily disappeared from the headlines and is not set to return to the courts until the 2nd of October, 2012 though Judge Kelly has darkly warned that the summer recess “didn’t mean the courts were closed” if something of significance arose. It is clear from the recent national conversation about Ireland’s former richest man that there is no single black-and-white assessment of Sean Quinn, with significant outpourings of support for the man and his family, clashing with a more general condemnation of the man who seems to have done everything he could to avoid repaying loans to a bank which we now own. What is perhaps just as remarkable is the way in which those holding one position seek to impose their views on others, as if there can be only one sustainable view, be it black or white.
Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term to describe the mental state of having two opposing positions in our own minds, an example of which commonly cited, is we might know that smoking is bad for us, but we rationalise that danger away by convincing ourselves we will escape illness, or we have to die of something anyway. Cognitive dissonance naturally gives rise to internal turmoil with guilt, anger or embarrassment as people contend with being mentally pulled in two directions, and people try to resolve the conflict by rationalising and promoting one position over the other. It’s a natural reaction to a condition which is not at all uniquely Irish. Consider the following:
Most of you probably won’t remember “Arkan”, the nickname of a Serb career criminal who cut a swathe of murder, rape and torture throughout the former republic of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The court in the Hague examining war crimes during the Yugoslav wars, formally accused him of mass killings. He commanded a gang of fighters known as “Arkan’s Tigers” who are seen as marauding butchers by many, though there is still a feeling by some today in Serbia that they were patriots. After the Kosovo war, Arkan returned to what appeared to be a lucrative life of crime in Serbia but was killed in 2000. A pretty despicable character, most would agree.
Except he found support from a very surprising source in one of the BBC’s most respected journalists and later a member of parliament – pictured below in trademark white suit confronting the crooked soon-to-be-toppled politician Neil Hamilton – Martin Bell who recalled him as a charming friend, despite the savagery in which Arkan was undoubtedly at the centre. “I don’t think you necessarily have to feel moral approval of people whose company you enjoy” was Martin Bell’s coming to terms with his own cognitive dissonance.
He might be better known for directing Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown or The Pianist, but he is also behind one of the all-time favourites on here, Dance of the Vampires which combined comedy, romance, horror, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne, love, lust, a creepy castle and lots of snow. The 79-year old Polanski is still knocking out the occasional artistic masterpiece to much acclaim. Wherever he goes throughout the world, he is feted by the great and the good as a Colossus of film.
“throughout the world” with the single exception of the US of course.
In 1977 he drugged and raped a 13-year old in the US and then fled the country, avoiding punishment and has never returned. Speaking in 2009, that nice woman, Whoopi Goldberg defended the director by saying “it wasn’t rape-rape” and when the director was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 pending possible extradition back to the US, a petition demanding his release was signed by prominent fellow directors including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Ethan Coen and David Lynch, as well as actresses Penelope Cruz and Tilda Swinton.
Bill Clinton/Tony Blair
Almost universally loved in Ireland and fondly remembered in the US, the former president has a well-established chequered past. We probably remember best his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky and others, but more serious was his lying on oath – and consequent impeachment – and his controversial presidential pardons for major criminals, including those imprisoned for their part in the so-called Whitewater affair.
Yet Bill is feted most places he goes. Women, including married women, jostle for his attention – not much solidarity there in the sorority for Hilary! An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny is comfortable sharing platforms with the former president, a man who played a crucial role in delivering the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and who undoubtedly is, and has been, a great friend to this country. It was not a random decision on Bill’s part to pay a visit to Ireland after his impeachment proceedings where he got an almost-fanatical welcome on College Green, something which showed to the world that Bill is more than a one-dimensional liar and womaniser.
Contrast that assessment with poor Tony Blair’s, whose decision to launch his autobiography in Ireland of all places, was also not a random decision. Remember Tony did more for the Peace Process in this country than any other British prime minister, despite the generational warning from that bulldog Winston Churchill, that British leaders will met their political cemetery if they involve themselves too much in Northern Ireland. But Tony had built on the work of John Major and persevered and was key to delivering peace. It is probably the greatest international – involving as it does, the UK and Ireland – success in Tony’s career, and so you might have expected universal gratitude to greet the ex-PM when he stopped off in Eason’s bookshop on O’Connell Street to sign copies of his book, or at Montrose when he stopped off for a “Late Late Show” interview with Ryan Tubridy. Instead, he had the Iraq War thrown incessantly in his face, with the Peace Process in Northern Ireland taken for granted. Go figure!
Or “Sue” as he is affectionately known to the wags keeping tabs on the impressive tally of legal threats issued by him to journalists. Whilst Denis might be perceived in the popular imagination as a corrupt businessman who bribed then-Minister, Michael Lowry so as to award Denis a lucrative phone licence, this has NOT been established, even in the Moriarty Tribunal. Instead, we have the familiar expression, “adverse findings”, used to describe the conclusion by Mr Justice Michael Moriarty where – and I use Elaine Byrne’s words in the Sunday Independent which I do not believe are subject to libel threats – “Judge Moriarty concluded that O’Brien donated almost IR£1m in “clandestine circumstances” to Lowry who, according to the tribunal, “not only influenced, but delivered” the licence.”. It has also emerged that Denis, or rather a close business associate of his, Leslie Buckley, sought to have the Independent journalist Sam Smyth removed from reporting on the Moriarity Tribunal where his reporting was not deemed helpful to Denis. Sam was subsequently removed from presenting a radio show on Denis’s Today FM radio station and more recently, Sam has, according to Vincent Browne, been “ostracised” at the Independent where Denis now owns nearly 30% of the shares.
But as well as being an ogre in some peoples’ imaginations, Denis also employs many in his Irish businesses and his international Digicel mobile phone business seems to turn in good results, and on the philanthropic front, Denis helps us fund our national soccer manager and he has a history of good deeds in countries where he does business, for example Haiti and Jamaica.
His Quinn group businesses, from which he was unceremoniously ejected last year, seem sound enough, and just this week, a former Quinn business won a GBP €600m contract in the Northern Irish public sector. Alas, Sean and his family were “de-Quinned” from the Quinn group in April 2011, when Anglo/IBRC sent in the receivers so they can’t claim credit for any present success.
Sean’s insurance business had failed according to the view of Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield and back in March 2010 needed a €450m bailout which has since risen to €1.1-1.65bn.
But business failure is not a crime, and those businesses which the State guarantees, there is supposed to be intrusive regulation to ensure the businesses remain sound, and that didn’t happen under the former Regulator, Patrick Neary.
So far, Sean Quinn’s only transgression revealed at Quinn Insurance was the inappropriate transfer of funds in 2007/8 to “invest” in Anglo shares or more accurately “contracts for difference”, and that transgression earned Sean a personal fine of €200,000 and Quinn Insurance a fine of €3.25m. Sean says this wasn’t illegal, Vincent Browne characterised it as unlawful, but you don’t get fined €200,000 for nothing. So, up to this point, all we have against Sean Quinn is inappropriately using insurance funds for which he was punished, plus the business failure of Quinn Insurance, and even he disputes his part in that.
But what now puts Sean Quinn at odds with Irish society is his campaign – documented in Judge Dunne’s recent judgment – to bilk his fellow countrymen and women, who for good or ill, now own IBRC which is in turn owed €2.8bn by Sean Quinn, though Sean disputes €2.3bn of that. A particularly unsavoury picture has emerged in the past two months with the video of one Quinn who is now on the run conspiring to defraud us, with another Quinn sent to jail for sticking two fingers up to this country’s judicial system – and contrary to what the Quinns claim, it is not Anglo/IBRC that is putting them in jail, but judges – with yet another Quinn sticking two fingers up to us as she worked as a part-time receptionist yet took a “salary” of €320,000 from Quinn companies that was seemingly our money, and with Sean Quinn himself seemingly resigned to a collision course with Irish society as his demands that “something be left on the table” for him and his family, conflict with his obligations to repay loans to a bank which the rest of us own.
So Sean inspires condemnation from some, but there has been an outpouring of support from others. And the two sides seem to go to great lengths to defend themselves and attack the opposing view. The portrayal of the “Border” people of Cavan and Fermanagh who came out in their 1000s to show support for the Quinns, as yokels gone astray seems particularly offensive, they didn’t turn out because of any current contribution to their lives from Sean Quinn, they turned out because of a four-decade history during which Sean Quinn established vibrant businesses and during which he spread the wealth, often to local causes. And that actually makes the people of Cavan and Fermanagh superior to the coiffed, cultured and cosmopolitan adorers of Polanski who pay tribute to his current contributions. With Sean Quinn not due to emerge from bankruptcy before he reaches 78 years of age, the locals are not offering support in expectation of imminent reward. Eaten bread is perhaps not as quickly forgotten in Cavan and Fermanagh as elsewhere.
Irish people will make up their own minds about Sean Quinn and his legacy. It seems perfectly rational that some will offer support to the man for who he is and what he has accomplished. Others, perhaps more distant from the man’s former life, may dismiss him as a villain avoiding his present-day obligations. Should we beat ourselves up as a society just because we can’t all settle on one version of the Quinn legacy? Of course not. And nor should we seek to impose one version’s dominion over another, when logic tells us both versions are valid.
Sean Quinn and his family will now go through the legal motions. You never know, they may yet avoid much of the Anglo/IBRC debt which they dispute, and they may prove the administration of Quinn Insurance was a financial mistake, though I would be doubtful on both fronts.
IBRC – and that is what the company formed from the merger of Anglo and INBS is called, though the Quinns are careful to always refer to “Anglo” even in terms of the present-day events – will pursue the repayment of its loans as best it can. It won’t recover anything near the sums claimed because the bets on Anglo’s shares failed and there’s no remaining asset, and the Quinn companies are not worth €2bn-plus.
The claims and counterclaims will ultimately be resolved by a judicial system, which we jealously hold to be independent in this State, and so far there is striking similarity in judgments by two Dublin judges with those of two Belfast judges – here and here.
Sean Quinn is bankrupt and is likely to be for 12 years under current legislation, and the recent Personal Insolvency Bill doesn’t change that for older cases. There will be a hunt by IBRC for undisclosed assets or suspicious transfers which may result in some sanctions. The only two risks from supporting the Quinns as far as I can see are the possible political contagion whereby Michael Noonan eventually picks up the phone to Mike Aynsley and says “back off” or where Quinn supporters help hide assets. Both seem like very light risks.
People will determine for themselves the legacy of Ireland’s once-richest man, some views will be black, some white, most varying shades of gray. And that will be that. We don’t have a national mental illness, and we are merely doing what people around the world do when trying to rationalise a way of dealing with prominent people who have more than one dimension.
As it’s the weekend, I leave you with a gallery of others for whom you might have mixed emotions. But don’t fret, any turmoil felt is not because you’re Irish.