SEAMUS MAYE is a lifer.
(Ireland) -- That’s
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
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 I’m talking about are those who find it next to
impossible to let go of a perceived injustice.
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
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 it’s 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
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
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 country’s 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.
That’s business, and sometimes it’s nobody’s 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
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.
sheriffs showed up at the family home 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 couldn’t 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.
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
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 €195,000 in the High Court for security of costs in
Maye thought he had finally found corroborative
evidence. On Thursday, however, judge John Cooke threw out Maye’s 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
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.
it’s 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
His case may or may not have had merit, but now we’ll
never know. It’s easy to understand CRH’s 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 he’ll drive on.
That’s 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.
It’s 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, it’s difficult not to
be struck by the single-mindedness that they usually bring to the task.
By Michael Clifford