It hardly inspires confidence that the parish priest known for speaking out against this intimidation is forced to take security measures for his own protection.
Fr O’Reilly delivered a searing homily last month calling out the mafia-like “paymaster or paymasters” who funded the savage attack on Mr Lunney. In an interview with the Sunday Independent, he said: “The more you speak, the more you are at risk.”
For now, he plans to step back from the robust public commentary he has become known for, in the hope of fostering peace. “I want to get back to my normal parish work… I find that in the last month, a whole lot of things have happened. I want to take a back seat for a while. But if there is further intimidation, I intend to return to the fray.”
A second death threat to the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) last week – companies founded and lost by the former billionaire Sean Quinn – has finally catapulted the long-standing campaign of intimidation and violence into the lap of Government.
The threat was issued via the Irish News last Monday by a man in a balaclava reading from a statement purporting to be a “last warning” to directors to resign or face a “permanent solution”. The directors “hadn’t learned their lesson” since the attack on Mr Lunney, the man said, chillingly noting that they could have “easily killed” him if they had wanted to.
In the same week, Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny’s car was set alight outside his home in Leitrim, the Garda station in Emyvale, Co Monaghan was set ablaze and two Monaghan hauliers were named as persons of interest in the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people smuggled into the UK.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, have struggled to explain why the years-long intimidation has not been stopped.
The Sunday Independent has learnt that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar privately rang John McCartin, one of five directors of QIH under threat, twice last week saying he was “appalled” at the intimidation. That the Taoiseach should open a direct line of communication with the victims of this campaign indicates that the penny has finally dropped.
For eight years, the directors of QIH and its property have been under siege. The businesses were once owned by Sean Quinn, the local former billionaire who lost control of his empire in 2011. He has repeatedly denounced the attacks on the companies, saying they are not carried out in his name. According to Mr McCartin, the failure of authorities to act – from Cavan County Council not taking down signs to gardai not making arrests – has “emboldened” those responsible and allowed for an escalation of violence and the creeping involvement of paramilitaries.
A photograph in the Irish News of the masked man bearing the latest death threat prompted a number of calls to the police confidential lines from local people claiming to recognise him, sources said. They suspect he is a dissident republican, originally from Northern Ireland but now living in Cavan, who has served jail time for possession of explosives. He was once prominent in the Real IRA. A director of QIH has also reported this man’s suspected identity to the PSNI and gardai.
The abduction and assault on Kevin Lunney bore the hallmarks of a paramilitary- style operation. He was kidnapped, tortured and had his legs broken in an attack resembling a punishment beating. The care that his attackers took to destroy a forensic trail, viciously pouring bleach over Mr Lunney before dumping him on a Cavan roadside, was also redolent of paramilitary thugs.
Drew Harris said last week that the investigation into the attack is making progress. Garda sources say several of the suspected gang members have been identified, and a van seized in Meath recently is believed to have been used by the gang in the attack.
But the directors of QIH struggle to see that progress. On Tuesday, the directors will hold their first meeting with the Garda Commissioner in Monaghan. Present will be chief executive Liam McCaffrey, chief financial officer Dara O’Reilly, non-executive director John McCartin and production director Tony Lunney. Mr Lunney’s brother Kevin, the company’s chief operating officer, will also attend if he is well enough.
“We are preparing for the meeting with the Commissioner. We will be asking for an update on the investigation, what progress has been made and why there have been no arrests six weeks after Kevin was attacked,” Tony Lunney told the Sunday Independent.
An obvious question is whether in the vacuum of any arrests, those responsible for the intimidation felt emboldened to issue a second death threat. The paramilitary theatrics surrounding its delivery suggests an element of playing to the media gallery too, and the statement even referenced newspaper articles about the attacks on the Quinn group.
John McCartin believes this is all part of the strategy: “We have had intimidation, signs and posters going up, defamation on Facebook and on social media, physical assaults, and now torture and kidnapping, and using mainstream media attention to scare away future investors.”
The directors believe the endgame of the campaign of violence is to run them, and the US investors, out, risking more than 2,000 jobs connected to the businesses and leaving the remnants of the group there for a new buyer to pick over. The Garda investigation is building on the question cui bono? Who ultimately benefits from running the directors and their investors out of town?
Sean Quinn has made no secret of wanting “his” company back. But he has repeatedly condemned the attack on Kevin Lunney as “barbaric”, acknowledging that his family would be “blamed”. He told Channel 4 News that he no hand, act or part in the attack, and had abandoned his ambitions to return to the businesses as a result of it. In his most recent statement to RTE last week, he said: “I call on those who have advanced threats to withdraw them immediately. If they feel that they are doing it in mine or my family’s name, they are badly mistaken.”
Mr Quinn is also clearly irked at Fr O’Reilly. He called to his home two weeks ago to challenge him on his now famous homily, even though the priest did not identify anyone in it.
This weekend, Mr Quinn confirmed to the Sunday Independent that he has complained to the priest’s Kilmore Diocese. He said he met the administrator, Monsignor Liam Kelly, and has written to “other people”.
He denied threatening legal action but he didn’t rule it out either. “I made no threats to anybody,” he said, in a phone call. Asked if he is considering legal action, he replied: “Well, we are where we are…”
Asked why he wrote the letter, he said: “I’m not going there but sure any fool would know why I wrote the letter.” He accused the priest of “telling lies” from the altar. “So, it’s not hard to know, anybody with any wit would know the man was off his head.”
Fr O’Reilly told the Sunday Independent this weekend that he wrote his homily in “anger” at the “awfulness of the inflicted injuries on Kevin Lunney”.
“It is not a good way to be writing something when you are angry,” he said. “I have to take that on board myself before asking anyone else to do that. I don’t want to vilify anyone. It never was my intention. I want to give more rational debate a chance, with the hope that these years of intimidation are now coming to an end.”
In the sitting room of his parish home in Ballyconnell, a large detached house clearly visible on the hill, Fr O’Reilly cited Nelson Mandela’s words about “leaving bitterness and hatred behind”.
“The most terrible walls are the walls that grow in the mind. I believe that applies to this area. Walls grow in the minds of some people that are causing great difficulty for themselves and for others. These walls are about perceived grievances, and I suppose prejudice plays a major part and they become entrenched,” he said.
“We must find ways and means of helping people to take down these walls.”