Labour Court boss agrees to mediate on long-running Debenhams dispute

Martin urges all parties to allow space for appointment of a mediator
Labour Court boss agrees to mediate on long-running Debenhams dispute

Some of the ex-Debenhams staff in Cork (from left) Anne O'Sullivan, Sandra Kavanagh and Louise Murphy at the Patrick St store. Picture: Denis Minihane

The current chair of the Labour Court, Mr Kevin Foley, has agreed to mediate in the Debenhams dispute, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have confirmed.

The government has appealed to all sides to make every effort to resolve the issue.

Valerie Twomey, who has been picketing the shuttered Patrick Street store in Cork for more than seven months, welcomed the news.

"It's a step in the right direction," she said. "Hopefully it will get us off the pickets for Christmas.

"We welcome the news of Kevin Foley's appointment with open arms."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin had previously called for all parties to the dispute to avoid ‘making moves’ for now, and to give a mediation process more space to materialise

He committed again to trying to resolve the dispute which has raged for more than seven months, saying that the protesters had been on the picket line for too long already.

Last week, he met with former Debenhams staff and Mandate trade union and told them that he would try to appoint a mediator to convene fresh talks in a bid to resolve the dispute.

But early on Wednesday, liquidators KPMG reportedly sent a truck to the Limerick and Tralee stores in an apparent attempt to remove stock which was blocked by picketing workers.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, the Taoiseach said: “I don’t think any moves should be made until the process is complete at this stage.

“In terms of the Debenhams situation, I did undertake that I would return this week to it with the appointment of a mediator to deal with the situation with a view to seeing if we can bring a resolution to it. I did ask for space to be allowed.

“This is a very difficult dispute, not easy to resolve.

It’s been a long time on the picket line for the workers in particular and they have suffered a lot in inclement weather and are under a lot of pressure and I acknowledge that

“It’s been a long time on the picket line for the workers in particular and they have suffered a lot in inclement weather and are under a lot of pressure and I acknowledge that,” he said.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who raised the Debenhams dispute with the Taoiseach in the Dáil, acquiesced to the Taoiseach’s request for space for now but called on him to ask KPMG to give the workers space too.

He warned that there would be “a row on the Dáil floor” next week if progress had not been made by then.

“These women have a deadline as well,” Mr Barry said. “They want Christmas with their families and the dispute sorted by then.

“If you’re appealing for space, I would appeal to you for space from KPMG who forced workers to picket all night in a Level 5 lockdown.

“Workers are aware that this company are trying to get packaging in and the high-value stock out this week and that they plan to do it at night time or in the very early mornings. This is a disgrace.” 

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Barry said: “KPMG should back off. KPMG forced women at 11 stores throughout the country to picket in winter weather and Level 5 restrictions.

“They should head the words of the Taoiseach and put aside their plans to remove stock this week.

“This is a real scandal. KPMG spent a lot of money going to court to get an injunction which they don’t seem to be in a hurry to use. 

"Now they’re spending even more money hiring non-union labour to work at night time to try to get the stock out in the middle of a Level 5 Lockdown.

“Questions need to be asked about the scandalous role of KPMG wasting money that could have been used to settle this dispute.”

More in this section