'Debenhams has assets too' - Protesting workers hit back at Tánaiste

'Debenhams has assets too' - Protesting workers hit back at Tánaiste

Former Debenhams workers and supporters stage a rally outside the St Patrick's Street store in Cork City as the sit-in protest continued inside the store. Michelle Coughlan-Price on the picket. Picture: Larry Cummins

Former Debenhams staff have hit back at the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, who earlier suggested the retailer has no assets to fund its redundancy payments to staff.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Varadkar said the Debenhams closure differs to the collapse of Clerys, as the latter owned prime real estate in Dublin which could have been used to pay redundancy to its staff.

But, protesting Debenhams staff, some of whom remain in a sit-in in the Patrick St store in Cork, say the Tánaiste is wrong.

“Debenhams UK has €95m in the bank, they publicly announced that,” Madeline Whelan said, as she led a large protest outside the Patrick St store in Cork today.

“And their expected turnover is €2bn this year. 

"We know that the stock in the Patrick Street store alone is valued at €4.9m. Stock in all 11 Debenhams Irish stores is conservatively valued at €25m.

“But it would cost €10m to pay us all the agreed two weeks' redundancy package."

Mr Varadkar said he believed the workers had been treated "very badly" by Debenhams, but said, "This is an insolvency though; what normally happens in insolvency when a company is gone, when a company is liquidated, when it has lots of debts and very few assets, is the workers get statutory redundancy and there's very rarely, if ever, any extra money to pay for more so what Government will do is step in if needs be. 

"This is already happening to make sure that those workers get their two weeks of statutory redundancy.”

Ms Whelan said the Debenhams situation "is almost exactly like Clerys."

“Debenhams has assets too. This is a 100% tactical liquidation," Ms Whelan said. 

"The company was split into two separate entities to funnel assets out of Ireland and into the UK.

Former Debenhams workers and supporters staged a rally outside the St Patrick's Street store, Cork City as the sit-in protest continued inside the store. Picture: Larry Cummins Echo/Irish Examiner.
Former Debenhams workers and supporters staged a rally outside the St Patrick's Street store, Cork City as the sit-in protest continued inside the store. Picture: Larry Cummins Echo/Irish Examiner.

“When we met Leo in the Dáil about five weeks ago he promised us 'a pot of money' but there’s no mention of that pot now.”

Determined chants of “your worker's rights are under attack, stand up and fight back!” were belted out by approximately 40 Debenhams protesters and their supporters as eight friends and former colleagues remained on a sit-in protest inside the building today.

Sinn Féin councillor Mick Nugent said that the Debenhams liquidator KPMG “seem to be digging their heels in” and only “reluctantly” allowed food into the workers occupying the building last night.

“It remains to be seen whether KPMG will enter into fresh talks and a new deal," he said.

“It seems that the Taoiseach and government TDs would only give tea and sympathy to the workers, now they’ve completely gone to ground on the issue.”

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