Former Debenhams workers ‘in shock’ after removal from picket

Gardaí arrest four protesters as liquidators KPMG remove stock from Henry Street shop

Former Debenhams workers who were forcibly removed from a picket by gardaí in Dublin on Thursday night were "in shock" and "angry" at the manner in which they said they were "manhandled".

Gardaí made four arrests during the operation to ensure liquidators KPMG could remove stock from the Henry Street branch of the fashion retailer, early on Friday morning.

Footage and photographs circulating on social media show large numbers of gardaí, including members of the public order unit, outside the Parnell Street loading bay where ex-workers were attempting to prevent stock being removed. The street was cordoned off with nine Garda vans lined up, two vans deep, down the centre of the street.

Jane Crowe, Mandate shop-steward, who was among those who had occupied the loading bay, said there had been "no need" for the "degrading" way she said she was "lifted" from the ground.


‘Rough’ treatment

“They were so rough that my jacket came off, my top came off and they broke the strap on my bra. When they put me down on the ground I was exposed from the waist up. I will be putting an official complaint into Gsoc.”

The mainly female workforce has been in dispute with Debenhams since it closed its 11 Irish stores 54 weeks ago, without warning. They say the UK-based retailer, which is in liquidation, broke the terms of a 2016 agreement to pay workers two weeks’ statutory redundancy plus two weeks ex-gratia, per year of service, in the event of redundancy.

The company has provided no redundancy to any of their former Irish staff, who have received only their statutory entitlements from their social insurance.

Carmel Redmond, who worked in stock movement for 24 years, was "in shock" after the previous night's events.

“Everything we do is peaceful. When the guards arrived, there were all these Garda vans and some of them were three-deep. We didn’t expect any of this, to be physically removed. It was a bit overwhelming. We just want to keep going with our picket. We have that right.

‘Legitimate dispute’

“We are angry today. It doesn’t make sense, that amount of gardaí. We are workers. We are not criminals.”

In February, KPMG obtained High Court injunctions to restrain allegedly unlawful actions and attempts by former employees and others to disrupt the company's efforts to remove stock from its stores.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD, who was present on Thursday night, said Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had "very serious questions to answer as to how he could have possibly authorised this massive, undoubtedly very costly, operation against a group of workers who are fighting a legitimate industrial dispute".

A Garda spokesman said: "An Garda Síochána attended a premises in Dublin city centre as required in the execution of a High Court Order."

A spokeswoman for KPMG said: “The liquidators are simply seeking to complete the process which is entirely lawful based on the court order which the liquidators received from the High Court a number of weeks ago. It is worth noting that all employees have received all of their legal redundancy entitlements.”

Mandate, which had no officials at the Thursday picket, condemned what it called the “heavy-handed” approach of gardaí.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times