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'Disservice' to prevent Debenhams worker protests, says Regina Doherty

Last month, Debenhams announced it would not be reopening its stores, leaving 2,000 staff unemployed.

Gardaí on the scene as workers protest outside the Henry Street branch of Debenhams on 29 April.
Gardaí on the scene as workers protest outside the Henry Street branch of Debenhams on 29 April.
Image: RollingNews.ie

MINISTER FOR SOCIAL Protection, Regina Doherty, has said it was a “disservice” to not allow Debenhams workers to engage in protests in recent weeks after the company announced it would not be reopening stores.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Doherty said Debenhams workers have acted with “dignity and composure” in asserting their rights. 

“It really bothered me that men and women were standing outside their shops in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin and they were not allowed just to quietly protest their disgust at how they had been treated after years of service,” she said. 

“I think we did them a disservice by treating them a second time the way they were treated on their protest.”

In early April, Debenhams announced that it would not reopen its stores after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This saw the loss of 2,000 jobs. It was announced after the UK retailer told staff that the business would be going into liquidation. 

The company had operated four stores in Dublin, two in Cork and others in Galway, Limerick, Newbridge, Tralee and Waterford.

In April, Debenhams workers were moved on by gardaí in Dublin after gathering to demand better treatment from the company.

Since then, there have been other socially distanced protests outside stores and outside the Dáil

“If I can do anything to help, even to get these people treated with the respect they deserve, not least by their employer and now by the liquidator, then I will do it,” Doherty said. 

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The minister said her department has informed Mandate trade union that she does not have the power to intervene in the situation at the moment.

“[The legislation] allows me to engage with an employer, and unfortunately we are at the stage now where the High Court has appointed a liquidator and I cannot interfere in that legal process, much as I would love to stick my nose in,” she said. 

I can reassure the workers that the State will always be here for them and it certainly will not let them down with regard to their statutory entitlements or the leave they have built up.

“This is probably not the last liquidation we are going to see, particularly in the retail sector.”

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