Jobs hope lost as haulage firm is to be liquidated

A provisional liquidator has been appointed to haulage company Target Express, ending prospect of saving 390 jobs at the firm.

At the High Court in Dublin, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan assigned Michael McAteer and Stephen Tennant of accountancy firm Grant Thornton as provisional liquidators at the request of the company, which ceased trading on Monday. Mr McAteer said his officials began work yesterday on securing the premises and assets of the company, which has depots around the country.

He told the Irish Examiner they would also act “straight away” to ensure staff would receive all their due entitlements in relation to wages, minimum notice, and redundancy payments.

Yesterday, two representatives of the liquidator went to the company’s depot in Little Island, Co Cork, and briefed the 18 staff staging a sit-in as to their legal duties as liquidators. They asked staff to leave. The staff refused. The liquidator’s representatives said they were anxious to work with them to find a resolution.

The sit-in continued overnight and at 9am today staff are to meet the liquidators to discuss their claim for owed wages and entitlements.

There is expected to be a fund to pay the workers monies owed.

It is understood that measures are also under way through the High Court in Belfast to wind up Target’s operations in the North.

Further details about the firm’s financial situation are expected to be revealed when the liquidators return to the High Court on Sept 19 to seek a formal winding-up of the company.

Provisional liquidators are commonly appointed in advance of a winding-up order where there is a risk that the assets will not be available for distribution.

Target Express workers yesterday challenged claims by the firm’s owner, Seamus McBrien, that the Revenue Commissioners were to blame for the closure.

The firm’s Cork-based staff yesterday issued a statement in which they strongly disputed the owner’s version of events.

Mr McBrien claims he was left with no option but to cease trading after Revenue failed to accept his offer of meeting an outstanding tax bill worth less than €500,000 by the end of September. He said Revenue had frozen the company’s accounts and sought to get Target customers to pay Vat directly to the tax authorities after he failed to meet their demand for a payment of €80,000 by Aug 22. Mr McBrien said he had paid €1m to the tax authorities in the past six weeks.

However, Target Express workers have accused him of misrepresenting the firm’s financial situation in media interviews this week. They also criticised his failure to contact them apart from an instruction to leave the premises in Cork. “We do not believe that the Revenue Commissioners would have take such action for amounts of money less than €1m where there were 390 jobs at stake,” they said.

Representatives of Mr McBrien failed to return calls seeking a comment from the company yesterday. However in a BBC interview, the Target Express owner apologised to his staff but insisted the problem was not his fault.

The workers, who are unable to seek welfare payments until they get a P45, said they were “in a state of limbo and penury”. Failure by the company to seek an examiner or receiver at an earlier date had diminished the prospects of a buyer being found and some jobs safeguarded, they said.

“The company had certainly engaged in a price war with competitors over the past few years but it is hard to think it wasn’t solvent given the level of business we have been doing,” said one employee, Brian O’Connor.

However, staff says there have been occasional problems in the past year with bounced cheques and wages being paid on time.

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