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Workers and supporters protesting at Iceland's Talbot Street store in Dublin in recent weeks.
High Court

Frozen food ban on Iceland stores lifted as extension granted on efforts to save the company

The news of the lifting of the ban was relayed during the latest court sitting around preserving the company’s stores in this country.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Aug 2023

THE PROHIBITION ON frozen food at Iceland’s Ireland stores has been lifted, the food safety regulator has informed the High Court.

Mr Justice Michael Quinn heard that following a number of actions by an examiner appointed to rescue the Ireland franchise’s stores from going under, the order had been lifted last Friday evening.

The ban had been in place since the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) ordered a recall on food “of animal origin” – such as chicken, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products – that had been imported to Ireland from the UK since 3 March.

The FSAI said at the time that the food showed “inadequate evidence of traceability” and that there had been “a number of incidents of non-compliance with import control legislation”.

The news of the lifting of the ban was relayed during the latest High Court sitting around preserving the company’s stores in this country.

Staff from several of Iceland’s Dublin stores packed into the courtroom to hear the latest on efforts by examiner Joseph Walsh to bring investors on board to take over some of the company’s 26 stores. 

They also pleaded for the court to issues orders compelling the company to use its cash reserves of €300,000 to settle “all outstanding wage issues and unfair dismissals” at the company since the franchise was taken over earlier this year. 

The new owner of the Ireland franchise for Iceland was announced in February as Project Point Technologies, and this ownership was later transferred to Metron Stores.  

Mr Justice Quinn granted an extension Walsh up to 27 September to allow him to complete negotiations. 

He said he could not make an order on the company given it is under the protection of the court via its examinership but added that the settlement devised by Walsh would, “as best as he can”, allow workers and creditors to receive payments due.

The court heard there are up to 150 workers who are owed money by the company.

Stephen Brady, barrister for Walsh, told the court that a potential, unnamed investor has carried out “extensive due dilligence” on taking over the stores and that further talks are needed to confirm their involvement.

“A level of premeditated calculation”

A representative of the Iceland workers, Donna Grimes, who worked at the Talbot St store – which is currently under occupation by workers – read a statement from the workers to the court.

The statement described the conditions experienced by workers since the takeover of Iceland’s Irish operations by Metron Stores Ltd, such as incorrect or non-payment of wages, and the erasure of earned holidays.

“Not only did we suffer financially when our direct debits bounced, or we had to take loans to survive or go into overdrafts and be penalised for it, we also suffered with anxiety and stress from a lack of certainty about our futures.”

The statement described the company’s failure to pay rent, utilities, and suppliers as revealing a “level of premeditated calculation”.

“On behalf of the biggest human stakeholders in this entire process and those who continue to occupy the Talbot St store, we ask for justice. We ask for justice for the ordinary workers who have been the victims of a most sinister and devious series of events,” said Grimes.

‘Scurrilous’ letter

The court also heard details of a letter sent by Metron Stores to Iceland UK on Friday containing claims which were strenuously denied by the latter.

Barrister for Metron Stores, Gary McCarthy, claimed Iceland UK had “swept away” funds before the transfer of ownership in February. 

He added that Metron Stores could issue legal proceedings if the claims were not addressed. 

Shelly Horan, barrister for Iceland UK, said the nine-page letter of “scurrilous” allegations could only have been drafted to “damage the reputation” of the original parent company.

She said the claims were made despite the examiner having been in situ for 70 days, adding that the claims made by Metron Stores were “reckless and wrong” and strongly denied by Iceland UK.

Addressing the counter claims, the examiner’s legal representative, Brady, said that it struck the examiner as sensible that if he could hear from both Metron and Iceland UK on the dispute, he could then provide his views on the matter.

Mr Justice Quinn said he would not comment on the issue and added that it was important that the examiner be kept appraised of correspondence between the interested parties to the case.

He added that it was important for the examiner to be made aware of matters which may affect the “availability of assets or non-availability of assets” for the company and its creditors and staff.

Ballincollig store

The court heard claims that Metron Stores had failed to pay rent for August on one of its stores in Ballincollig, Cork.

Barrister Fred Gilligan, speaking on behalf of the landlord, said it also appeared Metron Stores had “fallen out” with electricity provider Pinergy.

He said this meant there was a concern that the store’s freezers and fridges remaining on the premises could cause damage to the building if the situation isn’t rectified.

Gilligan said there was no issue with surrendering the lease on the building once the rent for August was paid by Metron Stores.

Staff from Iceland’s Dublin stores said they were “disappointed” with the decision to extend the examinership period.

“Workers who have already been left on temporary lay-off now have to deal with another month of uncertainty before seeing relief,” one worker told The Journal.

The examiner will advertise creditors meetings over the coming weeks before the case returns on 27 September.

Additional reporting by Steven Fox

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