Former Debenhams workers protesting in Dublin told to end demonstration by gardaí

‘We’re all devastated ... If I even think about the future at the moment, I panic’

Debenhams staff were moved on by gardaí in Dublin after gathering at the Henry Street Debenhams store, to demand better treatment from the company, which has announced that it would not re-open after the Covid-19 pandemic. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Gardaí told former Debenhams workers demonstrating in Dublin city centre on Tuesday morning to end their protest because it was deemed “a non-essential journey”.

The retail workers gathered outside the Henry Street Store on Dublin’s north side to protest over the redundancy package issued by the company.

Some 2,000 Debenhams workers nationally were informed by email on April 9th that the company’s 11 stores in the Republic were “not expected to reopen” after the Covid-19 pandemic with the company liquidating its Irish operation.

The demonstration was due to begin at 11am but gardaí arrived at the scene shortly before then. They then asked protesters to stop under the Covid-19 regulations.

Attending gardaí said while they support the former workers’ right to protest, they could not do it while pandemic restrictions are in place.

“You are entitled to protest any other time but not during the Covid-19 lockdown. This is a non-essential journey,” a garda told protesters. “We request that you leave the area; if you fail to do that, it is an offence. The protest can happen any other time after Covid-19, we need you to leave the area right now.”

‘Keeping people safe’

He added that “77 people died in Ireland yesterday” and that it is important citizens abide by the regulations to keep people safe.

Speaking before the arrival of gardaí, Marie Murphy – who worked at Debenhams for almost 20 years – said she was protesting as she feels the treatment meted out to her is “heartbreaking”.

“We’ve all lost our jobs, after all the loyal service over the years,” said Ms Murphy. “We kept this business going for them and we worked so hard. We’ve taken so many cuts over the years, We’re all devastated. I’m a single mother and I have a massive mortgage. If I even think about the future at the moment, I panic. I’m just so worried.”

George Cardiff, who was a supervisor in Debenhams, said he just “couldn’t believe it” when he got the email saying the company was going into liquidation.

“I don’t think this was an overnight decision, this was a long time coming. We had been hearing rumours here and there that Henry Street store could be going. I think it [Covid-19] was an opportunity,” said Mr Cardiff.

“I’m safe, my home will be safe. But people with mortgages and all, they’ll be a different kettle of fish. People have the potential to lose their homes. It’s crazy.”

Meanwhile, Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr John Sheehan has also been strongly critical of the British retail giant over the way in which it has left its Irish staff without any redundancy package.

Cllr Sheehan joined with some 30 former Debenhams staff and members of the Mandate trade union at a protest outside the company’s store on Patrick Street in Cork city centre this morning to highlight the issue.

“There are people here who have 30 and 40 years service, first in Roches Stores and subsequently in Debenhams. And then to get notice via email that your career is gone is an appalling way to treat people . . . They were just told to go to Government to seek social welfare, no warnings, no consultation, no package put in place to recognise their long hard service. And I’m here to show solidarity with them on behalf of the people of Cork.”

Mandate shop steward at Patrick Street, Valerie Conlon said: “This announcement genuinely came out of the blue . . . but we were told our jobs were okay so we weren’t expecting this at all. When we closed due to the Government lockdown on the Monday after St Patrick’s Day, we genuinely thought we would be reopening again and we didn’t think there would be any problem coming back to work again.”

‘Now our jobs are gone’

Debenhams employed 300 staff directly at its Patrick Street store while another 200 were employed at concession companies operating there such as Oasis and Warehouse. Another 160 were employed at Debenhams in Mahon.

Among those attending the protest was Georgina Coughlan, who has been working at the Patrick Street shop since 1996 when it was owned by Roches Stores before it was taken over by Debenhams in 2008

“We just got a generic email on Holy Thursday telling us we lost our jobs and two days earlier we had been assured our jobs were okay and the closure was just temporary. But now our jobs are gone and with no redundancy.”

Madeleine Whelan, who has 30 years of service at the Patrick Street shop, said it was heartbreaking to discover their jobs were gone in such as casual manner.

Cork North-Central Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Mick Barry said the Government could not ignore the appalling way that Debenhams are treating their Irish staff.

“Retail Ireland say that there are 110,000 jobs on the line [because of Covid-19] so I think it’s very positive to see the Debenhams workers stand up for their rights and fight back,” said Mr Barry.

“I hope the Oasis workers, the Warehouse workers, the Laura Ashley workers take a lead from them and I think the Government cannot stand idly by . . . It must stop its Pontius Pilate stance and defend and save jobs.”