Protesters lock themselves inside Debenhams loading bay

Richard Boyd Barrett says gardaí at Dublin demonstration ‘extremely heavy handed’

Gardaí removed a number of protestors from the former Debenhams store on Henry Street on Thursday night after they had locked themselves inside the loading bay to prevent the removal of stock.

A group of protesters assembled at the former store on Thursday evening in response to a social media callout stating that there was Garda presence in the vicinity and the removal of stock was “imminent”.

The joint provisional liquidators of Debenhams' Irish operation KPMG were granted High Court injunctions to restrain allegedly unlawful actions and attempts by former employees and others to interfere with the company's efforts to take their stock at its 11 stores across the country.

By midnight, several public order unit vans and gardaí had arrived at the back of the former Henry Street store, where protesters had locked themselves inside the loading bay and supporters had gathered across the street with placards and megaphones.

Protesters were read the High Court injunction, which allowed KPMG to remove the stock, and were instructed at 1am to leave the premises. Some of the protesters walked out while others had to be removed by the public order unit.

A brief scuffle between gardaí and some of the supporters broke out as the protesters were removed. Several people remained outside on Parnell Street until after 2am.

Solidarity PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the Garda presence as "extremely heavy handed and fairly aggressive".

“These are ordinary working decent people fighting for their rights and now we have guards here scaring them and backing up a liquidator and a company that has treated these workers poorly,” he said.

Shop steward Jane Crowe, who worked in the click-and-collect department at the Henry Street store, was one of the protestors. Speaking after she was forcibly removed from the store by gardaí, Ms Crowe said: "It's an awful shame the way workers have been treated tonight and the way they have been treated for the past year."

Ms Crowe said it was not the first time she had been removed from a former store by gardaí, having occupied a former Blanchardstown store at a previous protest. "This time was much more forceful. They carried me out of the loading bay and my coat and top came off over my head. They lay me on the ground without my top on," she said.

The Government’s proposed €3 million retraining and upskilling fund was rejected by 91 per cent of Debenhams workers who took part in a previous ballot, however, further talks are ongoing between officials, union representatives and staff on how the fund could be used and a further ballot is due to take place in the coming weeks.

Mandate said the provision of direct cash payments, and a commitment by the Government to new legislation to protect workers could help to end the dispute.

“There is no need for what happened tonight as we’re currently putting the fund to a ballot, there was no need for the guards to come along tonight,” Ms Crowe said.

Ms Crowe told The Irish Times she was “a bit shaken” and “out of breath” after being carried out of the store by gardaí as she had lung problems, for which she had been in intensive care in November.

"The Government and KPMG class the workers of Ireland as the little people, but without the little people this country wouldn't be running," she said.