Marks & Spencer is to axe 180 jobs with the closure of four stores later this month.
The retail giant announced the decision after a strategic store review in Ireland and within weeks will close sites in Mullingar, Co Westmeath; Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin; and Naas, Co Kildare.
Jonathan Glenister, head of M&S Ireland, insisted the chain remains fully committed to its Irish business and 17 other shops nationwide.
A new flagship store is proposed for Limerick and will open in 2016, creating 250 new jobs, while M&S will invest in the rest of its portfolio, including a relaunch of the Grafton Street store in Dublin as an M&S regional centre.
Mr Glenister said: “We have traded here for the last 35 years, employ around 2,800 people and have extraordinarily loyal Irish customers, but the last few years have been very challenging.
“During this time our Republic of Ireland business has been under continuous review and we have made savings and found efficiencies wherever possible.
“However, the retail sector outlook has not improved and we have to act now to protect the long-term good of the company.
“We have carried out a strategic store review and it is with regret that we are now closing four unprofitable stores.”
The four stores earmarked, which include two food-only shops, did not open today as news was broken to staff this morning.
They will reopen tomorrow and trade until Saturday August 17.
M&S said employees will be supported during the process and unions will be fully engaged over redundancy terms and conditions.
“Our first duty is to our affected store teams and we have spoken to them directly today,” Mr Glenister added.
“We will now do all that we can to help them through the coming weeks and support them with their future employment needs. We are now closely engaging with our union officials from Mandate and Siptu on all matters arising.
“Despite taking this difficult business decision, we are very proud of our Irish business and will continue to invest in it for the future.
“We hope that the news of a new flagship store for Limerick and an investment in our remaining estate will be welcomed by our customers and seen as a confirmation of our commitment to the Republic of Ireland.”
M&S Mullingar, Tallaght and Naas opened in 2007 with the Dun Laoghaire store open since 2003.
Elsewhere plans are in place for a 72,000 sq ft flagship store that will anchor the proposed new Horizon Mall – formerly Parkway Valley – that is subject to planning consent.
M&S said it will also be updating a number of existing stores across Ireland.
The Mandate trade union - which represents thousands of workers at the 21 Marks and Spencer stores across Ireland - said today’s announcement is a devastating shock for the workers and their families.
The union was informed this morning of the four store closures along with the company's intention to seek a reduction in certain terms and conditions enjoyed by staff - like Christmas bonuses and certain premium payments.
Mandate said it is now preparing to meet with the company to discuss the consequences arising from these planned changes, and its priority is to ensure that all members who are directly affected are afforded the widest range of options available.