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Protesters demonstrate outside a Debenhams store in Dublin (File photo) Sam Boal/

Four arrests as gardaí remove protesters during demonstration at former Debenhams store

It is understood those arrested have since been released.

FOUR PEOPLE HAVE been arrested after gardaí removed a number of workers from a former Debenhams store in Dublin last night.

Protesters gathered at the store in support of workers who lost their jobs at the store last year, after liquidators KPMG sought to remove stock from the store last night.

A Garda spokesman confirmed to The Journal that gardaí attended the scene to execute a High Court order, but would not confirm details of any arrests.

It is understood those arrested have since been released.

Mandate Trade Union, which represents former workers, condemned what it described as “heavy-handed tactics” by gardaí.

“This incident should never have happened,” Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light said.

“We need legislation to prevent this from ever happening again, and we need it now. This government have been dwelling on this long enough. We know what needs to change, and they need to change it immediately.”

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin this afternoon, Jane Crow, a Mandate representative and former Debenhams Henry Street employee, said the workers were conducting their regular picket last night when they received a tip that gardaí were on the way.

“At one stage, I’d say there were around 60 gardaí,” she said.

Crow said she will be making an official complaint to Garda Ombudsman about the officers’ handling of the situation.

She said, “It was very degrading because when I was lifted up and brought out, they were so rough with me that my jacket came off, and my top came off and they ripped a strap on my bra so when they put me down on the ground, I was exposed from the waist up… It was disgraceful.”

Crow said that the former workers were due to vote in the coming weeks on a proposal by the Department of Higher Education to create a €3 million retraining fund to be administered by Solas.

Aimed at resolving the dispute, the fund was initially rejected by the workers in January but is now being reconsidered.

“KPMG were aware that we’re putting out to ballot again the €3 million deal that was given to us by the government,” Crow said. “Everything could have been resolved peacefully within two weeks’ time.”

People Before Profit TD for Dún Laoghaire Richard Boyd Barrett, who was present during the incident, described last night’s garda operation as “absolutely shocking and unacceptable”.

Speaking to reporters, he accused gardaí of “using unbelievably heavy-handed, disproportionate tactics against completely peaceful, mostly women, mothers and grandmothers, fighting to defend their legitimate rights”.

He said gardaí had cordoned off “the entirety of Parnell Street” to deal with “peaceful protestors” who were “no threat to anybody”.

“There was absolutely no need whatsoever to drag women, mothers and grandmothers away from here in order to enforce that court order. But particularly, as we informed the gardaí, when there is a ballot going on that potentially will resolve this dispute,” Boyd Barrett said.

Enhanced payments

On 9 April last year, Debenhams told staff that the company was going into liquidation and would not be reopening its Irish outlets.

Protesters, many of whom are former workers at the department store’s 11 Irish outlets, have been demonstrating for over a year in Dublin and Cork to prevent the removal of stock.

This stock is to be sold off and used to pay the insolvent company’s ‘preferential’ creditors, including the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners.

But the workers are lower down in the priority list of creditors, meaning there’s no money to pay out on enhanced redundancy packages negotiated on their behalf by their trade union, Mandate, in 2016.

Workers have been protesting since the closure and an official strike action was launched on 27 May last year. Almost 1,000 workers balloted for industrial action after around 2,000 – 1,400 directly employed staff, 500 concession staff and 300 cosmetic staff – lost their jobs.

The strike has focused on preventing stock and company assets from being removed from closed stores while raising attention to the workers’ calls for enhanced redundancy settlements of four weeks’ pay per year of service instead of the statutory two weeks’ pay.

They are also demanding that the government implement the findings of the 2016 Duffy Cahill report.

Published in the wake of the Clery’s debacle, the report recommended that workers who have negotiated enhanced redundancy packages with their employer should be moved up the priority list of creditors in the case of an insolvent liquidation.

If there’s no cash or assets in the company to fund the payments, the report recommended that the State should foot the bill at the enhanced agreed-upon rate instead of the statutory one.

- Contains reporting by Lauren Boland and Ian Curran.

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