Martin and McDonald clash over Debenhams liquidation

Taoiseach says company should ‘do the right thing’ and pay workers redundancy agreed

Debenhams had operated 11 stores in Ireland and employed 950 people here directly and a further 500 worked at concession stands in its shops. File photograph: Collins

Debenhams had operated 11 stores in Ireland and employed 950 people here directly and a further 500 worked at concession stands in its shops. File photograph: Collins

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called on Debenhams Ireland to “do the right thing” and pay their department store workers the redundancy agreed after the Irish arm of the firm went into liquidation.

During sharp exchanges with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald he warned against unrealistically raising workers’ expectations after she called for the Government to intervene directly in the dispute .

She also called for company law to be amended to prevent “tactical liquidations” which allows firms to separate out assets and “walk away from all their responsibilities to their Irish workers”.

Sinn Fein will this afternoon publish legislation to prevent such tactical liquidations and insolvencies and she called on the Government to support the legislation and pass it before the Dáil summer recess.

The Taoiseach rounded on Ms McDonald when she said that five years after he first called for company law to be changed nothing had happened, despite him not being “new to government” and supporting the last administration.

Mr Martin accused her of being “very disingenuous and dishonest in your presentation. I have not been in government for five years. I’ve been in government for one week.”

The row erupted over the ongoing protests by Debenhams workers seeking redundancy payments after the firm went into liquidation in April.

During leaders’ questions in the Dáil being held in the Convention Centre Dublin Mr Martin told Ms McDonald, “the Government cannot arbitrarily intervene in liquidations as easily as you have said”. He said however that “Debenhams should do the right thing by their workers and should pay the redundancy agreed”. The company has obligations for its workers he said.

Debenhams retail Ireland, the Irish arm of the company, had operated 11 stores in the State and employed 950 people directly and a further 500 worked at concession stands in its shops. The company was placed in liquidation in April and employees have protested since in a bid to win redundancy pay.

Ms McDonald said the workers wanted the Government to intervene with and engage with KPMG the liquidators and ensure the company pays two weeks redundancy per year of service in addition to the statutory redundancy and now allow them to “simply walk away”.

Mr Martin told Ms McDonald that the Tánaiste who is Minister for Enterprise, will be examining the legislation “but it is not going to deal with the Debenhams’ workers plight and you know that Deputy”.

He warned her when dealing with workers who had gone through such trauma not to unrealistically raise expectations and “not blame everybody else when it’s the company” at fault.

“We will do everything we can within the law to support the workers and provide resources to enable works to secure their rights and entitlements and future employment.”

Ms McDonald said the workers are on the picket line 24/7 since April and it was the company’s intention to take all their stock inside the Irish stores and take it back to their British operations and “leave workers high and dry”.

She said such tactical liquidation “is not new” and what happened to Clery’s department store when employees were left high and dry, was the blue print for events with Debenhams.

She said that in 2015 Mr Martin had called for State to intervene through legislation by amending the Companies Act to close this loophole allowing companies to separate assets from the balance sheet and claim inability to pay redundancy.

“We’re five years on,” she said and claimed Mr Martin is “not new to government” because he supported “the last government in which they did precisely zilch to ensure that this scandalous situation” will be dealt with.

Mr Martin replied: “that’s what you and your party have been peddling” and it did not help anybody.

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