Union distances itself from comments by vice-president about Debenhams workers

Author of book about long-running dispute brands comments ‘offensive’ and ‘vile’

Mandate trade union has issued a statement distancing itself from comments in a private conversation by its vice-president that, if had been up to him, Debenhams strikers would have "got f*ck all".

After Debenhams UK announced none of its 11 Irish outlets would reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic, making its workforce of approximately 1,000 people here redundant, former workers picketed stores as part of a 406-day battle for improved redundancy terms.

Joe Quinn, a long-time Mandate union activist, member of its National Executive Council (NEC) and shop steward in Tesco in Arklow, Co Wicklow, said a recently published book on the dispute would be "fantastic sh*t paper – only problem is it might be expensive or could leave a print on my arse".

The comments were made during a private conversation on social media last year and recently forwarded to Jane Crowe, former shop steward in the Henry Street branch of Debenhams, Dublin.


They were also forwarded to Fergus O’Dowd, co-author with Sue O’Connell of the book Tales from the Picketline, published last November.

Screen grabs of the exchange, seen by The Irish Times, show Mr Quinn taking issue with some aspects of the book documenting the dispute, which began in April 2020 and ended in May last year.

He appears to say of the book: “Was in need of sh*t paper. Will order it and use it for that purpose.” Later in the exchange, he appears to say of the mainly female Debenhams workforce: “If it had been up to me they would have got F*CK ALL. It is what it is.”

No comment

Asked about the comments on Friday, Mr Quinn said: “I refer you to the statement issued by Mandate and have no wish to comment any further than that.”

Mandate general secretary Gerry Light, in a statement published on the union's website on Thursday, said: "I would like to explicitly clarify that these comments were made by Mr Quinn in a personal capacity only, without the knowledge or authority of the union.

“They do not reflect the views or the values of the union, its staff or members of the National Executive Council. In response, the union has now taken prompt action as per its internal procedures. Based on the foregoing, the National Executive Council is satisfied that this unfortunate event has been dealt with and addressed appropriately.”

Mr O’Dowd, in a complaint to Mandate, described Mr Quinn’s comments about the book as “offensive, vile and slanderous to the people who have produced and taken part in the project . . .as well as to the workers who stood on picket lines for 406 days”.

Ms Crowe said the almost 1,000 strikers, some of whom are still Mandate members, felt “very let down” by Mr Quinn.

"We have not been informed of what 'prompt action' has been taken. We do not know if Joe Quinn still holds the position of vice-president or any other position on the NEC. "

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times