The real dilemma of the Quinn affair: The invisibility of the Irish state to its own people

Ireland is going through an extraordinary times recently… It finds itself in the midst of a flux and change much greater and scarier than anything wished for in those far off days when Gay Byrne’s prodigious talent used to come at the nation on TV (weekly) and Radio (daily) upbraiding the nation for its illiberality and failure to get outside its own conservative Catholic box.

The Celtic bubble (as might now feel free to call it) did float some boats (some much higher than others), but the hangover is throwing up some very strange phenomena…

Father Brian Darcy, a liberal churchman hero of the 80s and 90s finds himself curiously on the wrong side of what ought to be an argument over lawfulness or rather the lack of it in the Quinn case).. Thanks to Broadsheet for the transcription of this RTE interview of poet Theo Dorgan by Charlie Bird:

I think probably media study classes of the future will listen to that interview with Brian Darcy as the most extraordinary example of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds that I’ve heard in years.

I find it very difficult to follow him in his equivalence of a march for victims of abuse in Dublin and a march in support of a man who took the 5,000 jobs he created – for which he is to be praised – and gambled them on the property market and lost and now feels sorry for himself. I can’t see why Brian couldn’t offer pastoral care in a personal capacity to the Quinns if they’re feeling distressed.

But quite honestly the courts of the land found that €500 million of money, owed not to Anglo but to the Irish Bank Recovery [sic] Corporation, the IBRC – our money, money we need for schools, hospitals, guards, road repairs, all of those things that make a civil society – the Quinns have decided it’s not our money, it’s theirs, in defiance of the courts, and any public figure who supports them in that is standing against the rule of law.

As if that was not bad enough, Fermanagh District Council is throwing in with local boy, who is up against the fiduciary interests of the people of the Irish Republic by asking their Chief Executive to send a letter “acknowledging that this was a very difficult time for the family”.

Fintan O’Toole is close to the mark when he notes that the concept of the state (and the collective national self interest it was intended to persue) barely exists in large parts of the state:

To function at all, we have to make the working assumption that those institutions and that idea are part of what we are, that, however vehemently we disagree with each other about however many things, there is this common ground on which we stand. Even when we rail against the institutions (for loyalty is not the same thing as passive obedience), we do so because we identify with them – they are ours to criticise. And even when we are angry at our fellow citizens, we recognise that what affects them affects us too, that there such a thing as a common good.

Everyone knows, of course, that there are subgroups – criminals, subversives – who have no loyalty to the State at all, who have contempt for its institutions and who don’t recognise the notion of the common good. But the working assumption is that these groups are small, marginal and outside the mainstream of society. They are, indeed, defined by the very fact that they transgress against what we take to be a norm that enjoys overwhelming acceptance. They don’t threaten the basic assumptions about the State – they actually reinforce them.

And then, every so often, there’s a moment when those assumptions crumble. The idea that the vast majority of people are loyal to the State is suddenly exposed for what it is: a useful fiction. What happens is that very large numbers of people who would never think of themselves as criminals or subversives reveal the truth that they don’t really have much time for key State institutions such as the law and the courts and that they simply don’t believe that there is an over-arching common good that means anything when you set it against more potent local loyalties.


The State, for them, is a vague, hazy and distant thing – too nebulous to command any real fidelity. The idea that encouraging the Quinns to siphon off €455 million of public assets might harm their fellow citizens has no meaning for them because, deep down, they don’t actually believe that there are such creatures as fellow citizens. There are good GAA people, good Cavan people, good Fermanagh people – those are the “imagined communities” that command respect and allegiance. A larger citizenship signifies nothing. The people who might be harmed by the Quinns’ actions are not Us but Them.

Even Gay Byrne in his heyday would have struggled to articulate the deep, deep trouble this ‘know nothing’ dilemma spells for a country that is struggling manfully to dig its way out of a very shady corporate past, where nods and winks were all the same for the proverbial blind Irish horse…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • son of sam

    Would I be right in thinking that Sinn Fein is the majority party on Fermanagh District Council?

  • Alias

    There is a substantive difference between fidelity to the Nation and loyalty to the State. The Irish constitution recognises this difference and makes both conditions a duty of citizens. However, it also makes explicit that the former is the greater duty than the latter and that the latter duty only exists as the means of exercising the former duty.

    It also recognises a substantive difference between the Government and the State. Where the government is acting counter to its duty given in Article 6 to promote the common good (as it is doing by promoting the EU interest to the direct detriment of the national interest) then it is violating its duty and acts without the legitimacy conferred on it by Article 6. In that circumstance, it is proper that the government should be opposed by the people.

    If the people decided that Anglo bondholders should not be bailed-out by the people in order to promote the common good of foreign risktakers at the direct expense of the common good of the people then Sean Quinn would rightly be a hero for refusing to co-operate with the government’s illegitimate policy.

    It is the people’s right under Article 6 to decide this policy of bailing-out the eurozone as it is “in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.”

    The people should vote accordingly on the policy, and if they approve of it, then Sean Quinn and his local supporters will be deprived of any basis to claim that moral right is on their side. After that, it could no longer be claimed that the State is acting without legitimacy and in violation of Article 6. The local supporters would be acting fully in accordance with the national interest and the common good.

  • Alias

    It’s interesting that this disconnection between nation and state is keener in the border areas, and in NI where the Irish nation lives within a British state. The State must be a nation-state and act to promote the national interest before it command the loyalty of the nation. Unless you’re part of the British nation, NI will never command your loyalty as its national interest is not your national interest.

    As ever-more of Irish nation’s sovereignty is given away to the EU by its quisling government, the disconnection between nation and state becomes ever-greater, with the state no longer serving the national interest but rather serving the EU interest in those areas where the sovereignty is given away.

    You can see this drift all across the EU, but it isn’t surprising that it should be greater in the EU’s only truly republican state where power is vested in the people and loaned to the state to promote the interests of the people rather than vested in the state itself and owned by it.

    Incidentally, that duty of fidelity to the nation (in addition to loyalty to the state) is one of the reasons why the Constitution is under attack (called a review): as a reunified Ireland under the British Irish Agreement would not be a nation-state it cannot be held that two nations of Irish and British who are to share the unified state with parity of esteem between them can have fidelity to one nation. This requirement of fidelity (How can the British nation express fidelity to the Irish nation?) must therefore be removed, replaced with merely loyalty to the state. It’s all part-and-parcel of the stealth agenda converting the Irish into a non-sovereign nation without their knowledge or consent.

  • wild turkey

    right, here goes..

    more of a personal reflection than the astute political analysis of Alias in post number two….and others that may follow

    As some may know, Gore Vidal passed on, to wherever, eh Gore?, last week. I have been re-reading his 1993 collection of essays, United States.

    It includes his 1967 essay, ‘The Holy Family’.

    ”The origin of the Kennedy sense of family is the holy land of Ireland; priest ridden, superstitious and CLANNISH… the Irish maintained the ancient village sense of family longer than most places in the west…”

    What’s that got to do with the Quinns?

    The fundamental underpinnings of the Joe and Rose venture reached back to the Celtic roots of both their families. It took as a universal what was actually the relatively unique experience of Irish Catholic immigrants in their reliance on family as the essential vehicle into the new world…. for Joe and Rose read Sean and Mrs “Loan guarantees? I sign em but can’t be arsed to read em” Quinn.

    and as the Quinn sage trundles on and on, family and clan lie at the root of the support and sympathy for this huckster.

    Fidelity and civic commitment to a nation ,or a state; however flawed the actions of that state may be, doesn’t even enter into.

  • alan56

    The concept of the ‘state’ in border areas was always interchangable. People were involved in some sense with both UK and Ireland and showed loyalty and disdain in equal measure to both Dublin and London at the same time. This ‘schizophrenia’ is hard to understand, but it does exist.

  • Mister_Joe

    ….(under certain circumstances)… In that circumstance, it is proper that the government should be opposed by the people.

    How? Especially when successive governments under differing regimes do the same thing that there is no prospect of any government being different.

  • Mister_Joe


    Referring back to my previous post, it’s not the least surprising that, in many developed countries, 40% or more of people don’t bother to vote. They understand that the various governments are simply tools of the very rich, no matter what Party wins, and their vote is essentially meaningless.

  • Mister_Joe

    BTW, I always vote, even in Municipal Elections. I’m an incurable optimist and, more importantly, I won’t let anyone else steal my vote.

  • Drumlins Rock

    just a thoughy… but Fr D’arcy, Fermanagh councillors, most if not all of the Quinn family and many of those “supporters” might on the whole pay lip service to the Irish State, but in reality, and in their subconcious at least, they know the British State is there to support them, and are in fact reliant on it. Even those close to the border would see it as an extreme fall back option.

  • BIGK

    “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of menliving together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” Frederic Bastiat – (1801-1850) in Economic Sophisms

    The wholescale looting of the lifetime assets of Sean Quinn is a carefully designed scheme concocted by an unholy alliance of criminal banksters, venal politicians, and an unprincipled judiciary. Frederic Bastiat, French political economist, predicted such systematic villainy some 170 years ago.

    Today, Irish people follow the public destruction of the Quinn family with voyeuristic fascination. Many are sympathetic to the Quinns; but many more are indifferent, and a few are downright hostile. Mostly they see the plight of the Quinns, whether deserved or undeserved, as something that does not concern them.

    But concern them it certainly does. The people of Ireland should well heed the words of the poet John Donne, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Today, we can clearly observe the banksters’ bell tolling for the ruin of the Quinn family. But heed well the ringing bell, dear people of Ireland, for its debt knell tolls for you too. Many of you seem unaware of it, but the vampire banks have already opened your veins and are feasting on your blood.

    What is being done to the Quinns is being done every week to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sovereign Irish men and women. Family homes and businesses are being unlawfully seized by the banksters every day with the collusion of the courts and sometimes the Gardaí. The mass media are not only shamelessly silent about this gross injustice but they deliberately produce nasty and biased pieces against the Quinns and all others who dare oppose a corrupt system; our newspapers, radio, and TV stations have lost all journalistic integrity.
    But there are lots our politicians could do about it – if they weren’t so ill-informed, dishonest, or spineless.

    It’s no secret to those who are politically awakened that the current financial chaos was deliberately planned and executed. Billions upon billions of dollars/euros/pounds were skilfully finessed from the pockets of the middle and working classes into the already overflowing coffers of a small cadre of international banksters. It’s all about control and the centralization of power into fewer and fewer hands.

    The Quinns and each and every one of us who have ever taken out a bank ‘loan’ or mortgage are the victims of a fraud so huge and so audacious that, to borrow a phrase from economist J.K. Galbraith, the mind is repelled. This enormous swindle is so utterly flagrant and ‘hidden’ in plain sight that we just can’t, or won’t, see it. As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “The bigger the lie, the more inclined people will be to believe it.”

    And so it is today that many lies and half-truths and volumes of disinformation are skilfully spread by the vassals of the banksters to exert control over us.

    As stated, the mainstream media is a major tool of the banksters by whose contrivances they control public opinion. And it works superbly. The gullibility of the populace must be a source of great joy to the banksters. The people are so believing of what they are told in the media that, in the words of a farmer I know, they “would swallow bananas sideways.”

    The Irish North and South mainstream media, as a lynchpin of the bankster elite, continuously portrays Sean Quinn as a bogey man, the man who cheated Irish taxpayers out of billions of euro. Quinn has been castigated as one of the major culprits of Ireland’s economic suffering. The IBRC (formerly the Anglo Irish Bank) and the Government have cynically sidestepped their own guilt and heaped odium on Quinn and his family.

    But none of their jejune propaganda stands up to scrutiny.

    Admittedly, Sean Quinn made a serious error of judgement by investing in Anglo Irish Bank by use of a financial weapon of mass destruction known as Contract For Difference (CFD). That miscalculation led to grave problems for himself and his family. However, looking at it dispassionately, there is a very strong case that he would have paid off all his so-called debts to Anglo if he had been left alone to run his money-making Quinn Group. But the greed and avarice of special interests combined with Machiavellian politics conspired against him.

    Sean Quinn’s difficulties with Anglo Irish Bank originated as a private affair. Sean Quinn, a private individual, entered into an arrangement with Anglo Irish Bank, a private corporation, using his own assets for collateral, private companies trading at considerable profit. With annual profits of some half a billion euro, Quinn could have effected a full pay-off to Anglo within an agreeable time frame. In reality, it was a totally private affair.
    It all might have – and should have – ended there, to everyone’s satisfaction.
    However, in an incredible act of unprecedented treason, the Irish government of the day under Cowen and Lenihan, when faced with a systemic banking implosion, decided to take the huge private gambling debt of banking fraudsters and transfer it to the unsuspecting Irish public. The Irish people and their children and their grandchildren would now have to pay for the criminal excesses of the banksters, not one of whom was ever reprimanded in four years for their illicit behaviour and who continued to draw massive bonuses as a reward for their obscene fraud.

    Among the billions of euro treacherously landed on the backs of the Irish people was the 2.8 billion euro allegedly owed by the Quinn family. With a stroke of a pen, this private debt to a private bank suddenly became the responsibility of the Irish people, courtesy of Cowen and Lenihan. Were the Irish people consulted about this? No. Neither was Sean Quinn. As Mr. Quinn said himself, “We never borrowed a penny from the taxpayer.”

    But then the bank, through a receiver, unlawfully seized Sean Quinn’s companies on both sides of the border in a military style operation after they had tricked him into travelling to Dublin. The receivers pay themselves £1,000 an hour to run businesses in which they have little experience, if any at all. Other predators who have joined the feast include solicitors, accountants, actuaries, financiers, PR men, security personnel, and other ‘advisors’. They will soon strip the carcass of its flesh and jeopardize the jobs of thousands of employees.

    So Mick to answer your question,fuck the state and the crooks who are trying to destroy it. Even with the help of the likes of you.

  • Mister_Joe


    A lot of what you say is undeniable. But you seem to have overlooked the fact that Mr.Quinn desperately wanted to be one of the “banksters”. He failed. So sad, too bad. Yeah, right.

  • aquifer

    Nation States have diminished in relative terms.
    They do not constrain the movement of capital, so a whole class of sanctions are missing.
    They do less because financial markets demand it.
    Nations are made less different by free markets.
    Economic Nationalism failed competitively.
    Social Democracy failed politically here, partly due to the residual influence of the churches.
    Funding for political activity is missing or for lobbying for private interests.
    The demands of the electorate tends to leave states bankrupt and eventually ineffective.
    The capacity of Ethnic Nations to progress economically through genocides is constrained by the members of the United Nations security council.

    We should be less surprised that selfish private and familial interests command some respect, as they still have power over their finances, and can sustain economic activity across state boundaries.

    The Catholic Church has to be a successful multinational in a world of struggling states. It makes economic sense for the church to identify with private and family interests and to disrespect modern states, and even to destroy some of the more socialist.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Banks and large corporates are know the rapacious barons – it will be interesting what moral and secular body is there to control them or are we seeing the fulfilment of what the great Hilaire Belloc postulated in his opus “The Servile State”.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Oops “now” not “know”

  • Barnshee

    “But concern them it certainly does. The people of Ireland should well heed the words of the poet John Donne, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”

    Hardly- the greedy, the naive , the stupid, the reckless, (or indeed in extreme cases those who show all these characteristics) are those who borrowed to inflate the (particularly) property bubble and deserve all they get.
    Those on the sidelines, outside the scramble are the real victims

  • jthree

    Hmm BIGK,

    ‘Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sovereign Irish men and women’ don’t have the multi-million euro rent roll from various foreign properties stashed in a Swiss bank.

    Also these conterfactual games are great fun: ‘he would have paid off all his so-called debts to Anglo if he had been left alone to run his money-making Quinn Group.’

    The cash cow of the Quinn Group, the insurance arm was hopelessly and recklessly under provisioned – it was another PMPA/ ICI in the making. The other big bit of the Quinn makes building products, a market which is not growing at the moment.

    Also here’s a letter from today’s IT

    Sir, – My understanding of the distinction between Seán Quinn, his family and the Quinn Group is no greater than my understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. However, I have observed that all the kudos for the creation of jobs and wealth attaches to Seán Quinn and his relatives while the responsibility for the huge debts, it is claimed, attaches to the Quinn Group.

    I further observed, when I paid a levy of €21 on renewing my house insurance recently, that, mysteriously, some of the responsibility for paying those debts attaches or, barring a miracle, will attach to me.

    Perhaps there is an econo-theologian among the Ballyconnell Four Thousand who can demystify all this for me? – Yours, etc,


    Countess Grove,

    Killarney, Co Kerry.

  • SK

    “just a thoughy… but Fr D’arcy, Fermanagh councillors, most if not all of the Quinn family and many of those “supporters” might on the whole pay lip service to the Irish State, but in reality, and in their subconcious at least, they know the British State is there to support them, and are in fact reliant on it.”


    Unionist psychoanalysis. Now here’s a first.

    How is this any less insulting than the shinner claims that unionists are all subconscious republicans waiting to be liberated?

  • Kit_Carruthers

    Two things I find fascinating in this.

    Firstly, the overt defiance of the RoI legal system, by those who could be classed as from a nationalist/republican background, demonstrates the folly of holding a rigid view on identity. Identities can fray pretty quickly when stretched across short distances. The debacle Sinn Fein found themselves in over the Quinns is a very noticeable example of this.

    Secondly, the sympathy given to the Quinns as opposed to the banks is absurd. The Quinn group was incredibly reckless with other peoples money and was found to be devious when under threat. It’s an absolute parallel to the reckless greed of the banks. It’s funny how quickly this can be forgotten when people can put a known face to the whole thing. In fact, that’s why banks spend millions on cuddly advertisement campaigns to soften the image.

    It really is an interesting story. It would be almost enjoyable if it wasn’t so infuriating (and that’s without being hit with an increased insurance premium).

  • Mister_Joe

    ..a nationalist/republican background..

    Totally irrelevant. They were would be banksters, nothing more, nothing less, and got burned and now their foolishness is costing everyone in the Republic.

  • Kit_Carruthers

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant the Quinn supporters are from a largely nationalist/republic background but are supporting defiance of the RoI judicial system.