By Michael Clifford
SEAMUS MAYE is a lifer.
Thatís my definition of him, anyway. Last Thursday, a court handed down a ruling that means his sentence is unlikely to be commuted in the near future.
Speaking to him afterwards, he was keeping the head up. He is naturally disposed towards the positive, and, despite labouring under a shadow for nearly 20 years, he refuses to bow down.
You meet a lot of lifers in this line of work. In some circles, "Lifer" is a term used to denote convicted prisoners serving a life sentence. The lifers Iím talking about are those who find it next to impossible to let go of a perceived injustice.
They will single-mindedly pursue a mission to right the perceived wrong, or, at the very least, have the wrong acknowledged. Often, this mission becomes the main focus of a life, to the detriment of other aspects. It can impinge on family and the quality of life. It certainly impinges on the pursuit of happiness. And, more often than not, even if some measure of success is achieved, the fight goes on in some form for the rest of their lives.
One route that is often explored by lifers is the media. Many possess a belief that if only the wider world can be made aware of what has happened, wheels will begin turning all the way to redemption. This can happen, but itís rare enough.
Sometimes, they see injustice where there is none at all, where they have been victims of little more than circumstance, but nothing will convince them that their pursuit is either a folly, or not worth the effort.
I first met Seamus Maye in a Dublin hotel nearly a decade ago. He was pursuing a High Court action against the building materials giant, CRH. He was in the concrete business with his brother, but their operation went belly-up in 1993. He believed that they were driven out of business by CRH, which, he claimed had been operating a cartel among cement and concrete suppliers. CRH has been the subject of a number of allegations in this country, but none of substance has ever been proven. The company has always denied all allegations of impropriety and no court in this country has ever made a finding against it.
The company and its supporters put much of the controversy down to jealousy. There is no doubt but that CRH is highly successful, one of the countryís best performing entities, its tentacles now spreading out across the world. In business, and particularly in anything associated with the construction industry, things can get hairy, people can get hurt, and in the end only the fittest survive. Thatís business, and sometimes itís nobodyís fault at all.
Some lifers have a disposition that betrays their obsession. They tell their story with passion, straying from established facts, never passing the opportunity to deliver a verbal kick to the entity at the heart of their woes. Sometimes, this can drift into exaggeration and irrationality. Maye is a different kettle of fish.
If you saw him in the street you might mistake him for a member of the officer class in corporate Ireland.
He knows how to wear a suit.
He is mild mannered and possesses a kindly face that easily lights up in a smile.
When you get to know him, it becomes obvious that behind his warm exterior, there is a core of steel, forged, most likely, through experience.
His family had been in the concrete business since the 1950s, and he and his brother Francis kept the tradition going. Then, in the early 1990s, they ran into trouble.
In 1993, sheriffs showed up at the family home in Sligo with an eviction order on foot of an attempt by a bank to repossess the property. Eventually, the bank backed off. By then, Maye was convinced CRH were out to do him. He took to wearing a hidden microphone to business meetings, and the transcripts formed part of his recent court case.
Later, he ran into the sand when compiling evidence for his High Court action. He was convinced his experience was replicated elsewhere, but he couldnít find anybody willing to give evidence. This, CRH would claim, was because there was nobody else, there was no case, or cartel, nothing more than sour grapes from a failed businessman.
The case went nowhere. Maye continued to research the area of cartels in concrete, spending a huge amount of time engaging EU authorities, which, he felt, were more open to acting than Irish authorities. CRH have been fined in other jurisdictions for price fixing, including the North and Poland, but it has always maintained its innocence in these matters.
Maye kept at it. Like fellow lifers, he had to, because if he walked away, he would still be labouring under the burden of a perceived injustice.
Apart from the financial travails he has endured along the way, he has suffered personal tragedy. In December 2008, his 22-year-old son David died in a road traffic accident. He had been studying law, and had helped guide his father through the forest of paper that the case had generated.
Two years ago the shadow over his life lightened, when another family-run firm initiated their own action against CRH. Now he felt he was no longer alone. Goode Concrete is currently engaged in a case claiming that CRH and others were running a cartel in the concrete and cement businesses. The Goodes mean business themselves, as they have recently lodged Ä195,000 in the High Court for security of costs in their action.
Maye thought he had finally found corroborative evidence. On Thursday, however, judge John Cooke threw out Mayeís case on the basis of inordinate delay.
"The delay in prosecuting this case both generally since 1996 and particularly since 2004 when it was apparently decided not to proceed until or in the hope that better evidence might emerge, has been manifestly inordinate (and) has not been acceptably excused."
The result was a huge blow to Maye, but CRH is just as entitled to a fair hearing, and the judge ruled that to proceed would have been unfair to the company.
Maye insists itís not the end of the road. There are higher courts, here and in Europe, further peaks to explore where he might get to unburden his load.
His case may or may not have had merit, but now weíll never know. Itís easy to understand CRHís reluctance to have the matter aired, as the costs of doing so in an extortionate legal system would be enormous, and, in the event of victory, the company would have little prospect of recovering the cost.
Maye says heíll drive on. Thatís the lot of a lifer. Only rarely does the quest end. The alternative for anybody who has suffered a perceived injustice is to walk away, try to compartmentalise the sense of loss, and get on with things. Some may be capable of that, but others see it as abhorrent to an innate sense of justice or fair play.
Itís a heavy sentence, but then many who fall into that category regard it more as a duty.
And irrespective of the merit of their pursuit, itís difficult not to be struck by the single-mindedness that they usually bring to the task.
___________Michael Clifford is a journalist working for
Irish Examiner and a columnist with
The Sunday Times.
He is the author of new crime novel