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'I'm still in shock': Closure of Irish Debenhams stores described as 'troubling' and 'devastating'

One former Debenhams employee said she is “still in shock” after this morning’s announcement.

Debenhams store on Henry Street in Dublin.
Debenhams store on Henry Street in Dublin.
Image: RollingNews.ie

POLITICIANS AND RETAIL workers have described as “devastating” the closure of Debenhams’ Irish stores with the loss of almost 2,000 jobs today. 

It was announced this afternoon that the UK retailer had told staff the business was going into liquidation and will not be reopening its 11 Irish stores after the Covid-19 emergency. 

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

In a statement today, Debenhams said the Republic of Ireland retail operations had trading challenges which were exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 and that it has already suspended trading in Irish stores.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, one former Debenhams employee, who had worked in Debenhams’ Limerick store for the past four years, said she is “still in shock” after this morning’s announcement. 

“I looked at my emails this morning and thought ‘Oh Jesus’,” said the former employee, who is currently five months pregnant. 

“I’d made really good friends in there. Normally when these things happen you can kind of commiserate and plan to get together,” she said. 

“But also we’d gotten to know quite a few customers and we’d have a lot of customers who’d be elderly and come in for a chat so I’m thinking of them. Are they going to be okay?”

“It’s just really sad,” she said. “I’m still in shock and I don’t think it’s hit me.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin, said the liquidation of Debenhams in Ireland was “devastating” for employees. 

“Our thoughts are with all those affected at this time,” he said. “Every support must be given to them in the difficult time ahead.”

His party colleague, Willie O’Dea, said it “was terrible news” and “more bad news for Limerick City.”

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan today described the staff in Debenhams’ store on Dublin’s Henry Street as “wonderful”.

“Top floor of Henry Street store is a must for my kids every for Saturday. This is not just about Covid but a troubling history of financial mismanagement that does a disservice to workers,” said Hourigan. 

Yesterday, Debenhams said that it was to go into administration in the UK with its 142 stores closed and 22,000 staff placed on furlough. The UK department store dates back to 1778.

This would represent the second time in 12 months that the UK store entered administration. On that occasion, Debenhams Ireland reassured staff here that they would not be affected. 

Debenhams in Ireland operates under a separate company, Debenhams Retail (Ireland) Ltd, following an examinership process in the Republic of Ireland in 2016.

Under that process, the vast majority of the company’s 1,400 directly employed staff, some 500 concession staff and 300 cosmetic staff were to be retained. 

The company had suspended trading due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Irish staff have now been informed in a letter that “these stores are not expected to reopen.”

“Despite knowledge that the company was in administration and that it wasn’t trading well, this news has come as a massive shock to our members who will be devastated by this announcement,” general secretary of the Mandate trade union John Douglas said this afternoon. 

“We are in close contact with the company and will remain so over the forthcoming process. We will be seeking a meeting with the liquidator when they are appointed and demanding that our members are prioritised throughout the liquidation process so that we can get the best possible deal for them.”

The Debenhams closure comes after the Government said there are 507,000 people in Ireland now claiming the emergency Covid-19 payment as restrictions on movement across the country look set to be extended in the coming days. 

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