DERRYLIN, NORTHERN IRELAND – Kevin Lunney, a 50-year-old businessman from Northern Ireland, was returning home one night when he was the victim of a prolonged, sadistic, overt attack. Kidnapped by four masked men, he was driven across the nearby border with the Republic of Ireland, locked in a horse trailer, beaten and tortured for two hours.
One leg was broken in two places with a heavy implement, several nails were torn off and the initials of his employer, Quinn Industrial Holdings, were carved into his chest with a knife. He was then dipped in bleach, apparently to destroy forensic evidence, before being thrown on the side of a quiet road.
Irish borders have a history of murder and intimidation, and Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney likened the attack to "paramilitary-style gangland castle beatings" that were a hallmark of Ireland's 30 years of trouble. From north.
For some, the attack conjured a vision of a gloomy future along the border in the event that Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement.
For now, people can cross the border freely and without the need for checks. A Brexit without agreement would probably change that: Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland will remain a member state of the European Union, implying the need for a more difficult border. This new division, many fear, could create ideal conditions for smuggling and potentially trigger a resurgence of paramilitary intimidation and violence.
However, the attack on Lunney seems to have nothing to do with politics or religion. Instead, this attack was just the scariest of dozens of incidents in an eight-year campaign of unpunished arson, vandalism, death threats, and assaults against the Quinn Industrial administration, also called the Quinn Group or simply Quinn. The violence has questioned Dublin and London's ability to enforce the law on their common border.
At the heart of the matter is the ownership and management of Quinn Industrial, the region's largest industrial employer on the border between Derrylin in Northern Ireland and Ballyconnell in the south.
Lunney, Quinn's chief operating officer, was part of a mostly local management team that rescued the company and its 830 US-funded jobs after the group's extravagant founder Sean Quinn went bankrupt in 2011.
Once the richest man in Ireland, Quinn had leveraged a successful construction business in a $ 6 billion global empire of insurance, hotels, healthcare and real estate in 2008.
The business investment and thousands of jobs that Quinn brought to the poor rural counties of Fermanagh and Cavan made him a local hero.
But in 2011, Quinn lost her fortune after investing heavily in shares of Ireland's now-famous Anglo-Irish Bank, which was about to go bankrupt over reckless property loans, a bankruptcy that overwhelmed the 4.9 million citizens of Ireland. Ireland with over $ 30 billion in debt.
Since then, Quinn has encouraged the notion that he and his family made a rough settlement deal. He and his supporters blamed their setbacks not on their business decisions but on the machinations of Dublin's bankers and politicians, as well as their former employees.
The attacks on Quinn's former companies in Cavan and Fermanagh began when his empire was being wound up in 2011 and were accompanied by anonymous threatening messages urging local management, many of them former assistants, to return the company to him.
At a public meeting last year, Quinn told hundreds of local supporters – some of them still Q.I.H. employees. – that he "felt stabbed in the back" by his former executives.
“All they have to do is show up and say, 'Sean, we got it wrong. We should not be here. There are keys, ”Quinn said at the meeting, according to a report in a local newspaper, The Anglo-Celt.
Anonymous posters, banners and social media posts repeatedly threatened nominated directors, including Lunney, with "the gun" and "kangaroo justice." In February, Lunney's nose was broken and boiling water was thrown in the face of a fellow executive, Dara O'Reilly, the company's chief financial officer, while having lunch at a gas station in Ballyconnell.
In May, the company received an anonymous letter threatening a "permanent solution" against five named directors, including Lunney. In total, the company has logged over 60 incidents in eight years.
Although the identity of the attackers is unknown, the Irish police and Quinn Industrial management blame a criminal gang.
Last week, a local resident wanted for questioning, Cyril McGuinness, died of an apparent heart attack when British police raided a house where he was staying in Derbyshire, England.
Irish media reported that McGuiness, 54, was a career criminal with more than 50 convictions and that he was suspected of leading the gang that carried out the attacks on the Quinn Industrial administration. On Thursday, three more people were arrested by police in Ireland about the case. They were released without charge early Saturday.
Quinn repeatedly condemned the intimidation and attacks, including the attack on Lunney.
A statement released by the Quinn family said: "We have not been involved in the Quinn Group for several years and are deeply frustrated and irritated that our former ownership of these companies is associated in any way with such abominable acts."
On a recent rare TV interview, with Britain's Channel 4 News, Quinn said he "had no act or part of his hand, nor was he aware or gainful" of the attack on Lunney and that it gave up his ambition to regain control. of your old companies. "People can say anything they want about me, but I don't want to be seen as the beneficiary of abuse or criminal activity."
Despite Quinn's repeated condemnations, the campaign continued. Ten days after his TV interview, a masked man wearing a costume associated with paramilitaries fighting British control in Northern Ireland issued a new letter threatening the owners and management of Quinn Industrial.
"This is your last warning to resign QIH directors, obviously you didn't learn your lesson after what happened to Kevin. If we wanted to, we could kill him very easily," the statement said. "The Quinn family, which employed hundreds people were stabbed in the back and we have the ability and manpower to endure it to the end and reach a permanent solution. "
Since the attack on Lunney, police on both sides of the border have stepped up measures to solve the series of crimes. The Irish police force, An Garda Siochana, said that although no one was currently charged, it sent several files to prosecutors, and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who was the deputy chief of police of the Northern Ireland Police Service. , said he was happy with the progress being made.
However, the fact that it has taken so many years to carry out the investigation so far has raised fears that violence could threaten further investment in a remote and underfunded region.
Quinn Industrial, spread across borders, is particularly vulnerable.
Liam McCaffrey, the company's chief executive, said he thought he and his fellow managers had been very reluctant to speak out against the campaign and that the authorities in Dublin and Belfast were slow to respond.
"It was underrated and not taken seriously at the highest level," he said. “There was a feeling that it was a local issue and it would disappear. What happened to Kevin changed that. Now there is more effort, but they are having to catch up. "
Any attempt at prosecution runs counter to a traditional code of silence in border regions.
Shortly after the attack, Quinn Industrial organized a short march at its headquarters in support of Mr. Lunney and his family. Few of the hundreds of staff and locals were willing to talk to reporters, and even fewer gave their names. However, silence does not imply support for attacks.
"There is no way this can happen to the company's workers," said Donal O'Cofaigh, a union communications officer representing many employees who is also a local councilor. "There is support for Sean Quinn, no doubt about it, but there is also support for the new management."
Lunney, along with several other senior managers at the company, still lives amid the winding, hedged roads and hills of the border region – scenic but, as the problems have repeatedly proved, perfect for ambushes.
"There are a small number of people who need to be treated and they haven't been treated," said McCaffrey, chief executive of Quinn Industrial. “Some of them may have paramilitary connections, but they are motivated by money, not any political agenda. We are determined not to be bullied, but at the same time we all have families and want to live a reasonably normal life. We take steps to protect ourselves and we are in consultation with the police. "