For years, the directors of Mannok, formerly Quinn Industrial Holdings, endured a campaign of intimidation and threats.
However, the brutal attack on Kevin Lunney two years ago was a turning point, according to the parish priest in Ballyconnell in Co Cavan, Fr Ollie O'Reilly.
In court Kevin Lunney said the attack was the culmination of a campaign against him, his colleagues and the business Quinn Industrial Holdings, which was intensely difficult and caused much fear in the community.
"A line was crossed; the Rubicon was crossed, and I felt this is far too dangerous and I'm a total hypocrite if I don’t take a stand on this."
"Originally, it was damage to property and then it became more threatening, because the directors of Mannok were targeted, their homes were targeted, and they were threatened," Fr O’Reilly said.
Fr O’Reilly knows this region better than most. A native of Cornafean in Co Cavan, he has been a priest in Ballyconnell for six years and has also worked nearby in Ballinamore in Co Leitrim.
"As the violence escalated, I became more concerned. I had spoken in my homilies about violence in general and when this happened, I knew I had to speak out," he said.
The attack and the details of what happened to Kevin Lunney shocked not only the tight-knit border communities of Ballyconnell, Ballinamore and Derrylin, but people all over the country.
"A line was crossed; the Rubicon was crossed, and I felt this is far too dangerous and I’m a total hypocrite if I don’t take a stand on this," he said.
"I did really believe that someone was going to be killed.
"There’s a bottom line in terms of morality and when wrongdoing and violence come into play, I think I had to take a stand and I’m pleased I took a stand, and I will continue to do that."
Fr O’Reilly also said he was worried about the impact on jobs in the region, with fears that the incident had the potential to jeopardise almost 1,000 jobs.
"This is about a huge area and there’s people employed from all over. You have south Leitrim places like Ballinamore and Carrigallen, there’s towns in Cavan like Belturbet and Ballyconnell and Derrylin and Lisnaskea in Fermanagh. You have to keep this place alive with jobs," he said.
Fr O’Reilly said when it came down to it, he was worried about "lives and livelihoods".
"I would have lost a few parishioners. They didn’t agree with me but there’s very few and I can live with that, that’s how life is," he said.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
'Justice brings confidence to society'
Two years on and three men have been convicted and jailed for the abduction and attack on Kevin Lunney. Fr O’Reilly praised the gardaí and the PSNI for their work on the case.
As part of the investigation, gardaí took 1,591 statements. Over 1,226 tasks were created as part of the investigation and 245 pieces of CCTV were examined.
"Let me say they have 99% support in these general areas. These communities are together, and they just want to get on with their daily lives."
"It brings confidence into society when people who carry out criminal acts like what was done to Kevin Lunney are brought to justice," he said.
Fr O’Reilly said the region continues to benefit from the huge employment provided at Mannok, adding that he has huge admiration for the directors who, in the most challenging times, have continued their focus on growing the business.
"It’s not easy for them with all this intimidation. They’re all family people. They want to protect their families as well and it’s crazy," he said.
Quinn Industrial Holdings was renamed and rebranded Mannok last year. It was once owned by businessman Sean Quinn, who has repeatedly condemned the attack on Kevin Lunney.
Fr O’Reilly said it is his belief that the Mannok directors have the full support of the majority of people living in this border region.
"Let me say they have 99% support in these general areas. These communities are together, and they just want to get on with their daily lives," he said.
Fr O’Reilly added that he is hopeful for a better future and has urged those behind the campaign of intimidation and violence to "leave the past in the past".
"I would say definitely it’s over. If you commit a criminal act, you will be caught and convicted. You may have grievances but talk to someone, don’t carry out any acts of violence. There’s no purpose to it," he said.
Following the conviction of the three men, the directors of Mannok issued a statement welcoming the verdict and said they wanted to get on with the job of run and growing the business.
Speaking after sentencing, one of the directors, John McCartin, said they wanted to move on.
"There’s nothing to celebrate in any of this, but it’s good to have this particular chapter parked and we can now go back to focus on what’s important, which is the stability of those businesses and continue to grow them as an economic driver for the region," Mr McCartin said.
The five directors are still getting police and garda protection. The executives have all been officially informed that the threat level against them remains as high as it has ever been. However, they are hopeful of an end to this campaign.
"Until that time comes, nobody can be assured of a normal existence here," Mr McCartin said.
Cavan Superintendent Padraic Jones, who led this significant investigation, said their inquiries do not stop here, as detectives continue to work on the wider case.
"I’m continuing to appeal to public for their assistance in progressing the ongoing investigations," he said.
The Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said a number of individuals are to be reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions as part of the ongoing investigation into the abduction of Mr Lunney.
He described the conviction of three men at the Special Criminal Court as "a good start," but insisted gardaí still have work to do to uncover "the wider conspiracy".