Interview with Senator Feargal Quinn February 20, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Interesting piece by Jason O’Toole in the Mail at the weekend where he interviews Senator Feargal Quinn. Interesting because Quinn is in some ways an oddly low profile Senator – sure, there are statements from him and contributions on an array of issues, but he has a significantly lower profile than some of his more famous colleagues, even now that Shane Ross has decamped to the Dáil. His interests external to the Seanad – such as TV – seem oddly detached from his political life. Which perhaps is how he wants it.
Having founded his first shop, called Quinn’s Supermarket, aged just 23 in 1960, by the time their first child arrived Senator Quinn was already on his way to becoming a multi-millionaire. When his fourth shop opened in 1970, he changed the name of the chain to Superquinn so as not to confuse it with rival fledgling supermarket Quinnsworth. By the beginning of the Eighties, Superquinn was one of the top four supermarket giants in the country.
But Senator Quinn confesses that there was a sinister downside to his success — with gardaí fearing for his family’s safety after other supermarket giants Ben Dunne and Don Tidey were kidnapped. ‘There was a danger of kidnapping. We had protection,’ he reveals for the first time. ‘The gardaí were quite concerned. If I’m not mistaken, they had warned the children to be on the lookout for anything unusual. One day the Special Branch asked: “Did you notice anything unusual?” And there was a car parked outside the gate. ‘They got worried at that stage as to our safety. The gardaí looked after us for a while. We became more careful. The gardaí said it was unwise for me to drive on my own to the supermarket and walk out on my own.’
Having said he’d never sell the business in his lifetime he then did so in 2004.
No surprise that he’s pro-Seanad:
‘It is very important to have a second House to have a second opinion. It would be like if you go to a doctor or a lawyer about something serious and they said, “No, you’ve got no choice, you’ve got to take my opinion!” I’d love to see a Seanad — even a less powerful Seanad — without the whip so that each individual could vote.’
But another point about Quinn is how right wing he appears to be. Both economically and socially…
Consider the following, O’Toole writes:
the Irish Daily Mail revealed earlier this week,the average family household is spending more than €750 extra a year on groceries than they did only two years ago — a price hike that is growing faster than inflation.
Senator Quinn believes one problem facing the retail industry is that the minimum wage is too high. ‘In Germany there’s no unemployment to talk of [the rate there currently stands at 5.5 per cent — in Ireland, the same figure is 14.5 per cent] and there is no minimum wage. I’m not suggesting there should be none, but it certainly should be linked to deflation; we’ve fixed a minimum wage that is linked to inflation and we ended up with the second highest minimum wage in Europe. ‘Since then we’ve had deflation and yet we haven’t reduced the minimum wage. I think some jobs don’t exist because of this and I’d prefer to see those people working.’
But what will they be buying?
And what of this analysis of the horsemeat issue?
What does he think of the current horsemeat crisis? ‘I think heads will roll. I think they will find somebody who knew what was happening.’ He fears it will have a major negative impact on Irish agriculture’s international reputation. ‘It’s going to present a problem for Irish agriculture in the immediate future. If you’re the European buyer for a big chain of supermarkets and you have a choice of who to buy from then competitors are certainly going to make sure that your attention is drawn to the fact — “Are you still buying from Ireland?” Even if you’re getting good guarantees from the Irish, the Irish are going to have to work a lot harder.’
Hmmm… one has the sense he’s not quite engaging with the topic, or is somewhat missing the point.
And social conservatism?
Senator Quinn believes ‘the two sides are likely to get some sort of agreement’ with the X Case. But he adds, cautiously: ‘I would be worried if somebody justifies saying: “If you don’t let me have an abortion I’m going to commit suicide.” Then it almost leaves the door wide open for people. I’d hate to find that something we did opened the door to automatic abortion on that basis.’
With regards to gay marriage, Senator Quinn says he has concerns if it permits homosexual couples to adopt. He believes religious adoption agencies would be uncomfortable with being forced to permit gay or lesbian couples to adopt if an equality law forced them into it. ‘As someone with five children and 16 grandchildren, I think children have a much better chance in life if they grow up with parents from each sex,’ he adds.
And the Seanad?
Not only is he not planning to contest the next Seanad election but he is also stepping down from his TV work on two popular RTÉ shows. Not that his work is done quite yet. Before he goes, Senator Quinn plans to tackle the contentious issue of Seanad reform. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that a referendum on abolishing the Seanad will be put to the country in autumn. Having served in the second House for 20 years, Senator Quinn believes that reform and the removal of the whip system is a better option. ‘I’m heading up a small committee to reform the Seanad,’ he says.
And what of the accusation that the Seanad is an expensive organ that serves no real purpose? ‘The Seanad can perform a hugely useful purpose and that is having a second view on every piece of legislation,’ he insists. ‘It will be dangerous to have legislation passed only by a majority in the Dáil.”
Interesting to see how far that goes…