'We just felt we had to stand our ground': Gardaí remove ex-Debenhams workers from Dublin store

The former Debenhams staff and their supporters had responded to a social media rally to organise after the presence of gardaí at the site was reported. 
'We just felt we had to stand our ground': Gardaí remove ex-Debenhams workers from Dublin store

Gardaí removed workers from the Henry Street Debenhams store's loading bay. File picture

Gardaí forcibly removed ex-Debenhams workers from a demonstration last night in Dublin city centre at the former Henry Street branch of the department store. 

30 Ex-Debenhams workers had locked themselves into the branch's loading bay to prevent the removal of stock while supporters gathered outside with megaphones and signs. 

The former Debenhams staff and their supporters had responded to a social media rally to organise after the presence of gardaí at the site was reported. 

Several public order vehicles had arrived at the back entrance of the store along with up to 50 members of An Garda Síochána at around 11pm. 

Dublin shop steward Jane Crowe said demonstrators told gardaí that the removal of the stock was non-essential work taking place under Level 5 lockdown restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

She said demonstrators were then forcibly removed from the loading bay and that the trucks were allowed to leave with the store's stock. 

"Some people walked out but the workers, we just felt we had to stand our ground. This stock leaving was part of our redundancy package that was being announced. 

"[...] We just supported each other while we were there. And then we were forcibly removed. Myself, when I was removed, the way they handled me, my coat came off, my top came up off over my head, and they broke my underwear and then put me on the ground like that so I was then exposed like that outside," said Ms Crowe. 

Supporters and demonstrators remained at the scene until the early hours of this morning. 

Footage of gardaí breaking up the demonstration circulated widely on social media. 

Former Debenhams workers have been calling for a greater redundancy settlement from the retail giant's joint liquidator, KPMG, and have been demonstrating since April 9 of last year. 

People before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett attended the demonstration last night and described the garda operation as "shocking" in a post on social media. 

Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light said the incident "should never have happened" and was "entirely unnecessary and preventable".

Ex-Debenhams workers are currently considering the terms of a €3m retraining package for the staff under discussion with Solas and the Department of Further and Higher Education 

Mr Light said: "The workers had decided to ballot for a potential resolution to this dispute at 4:30pm yesterday and then we see these traumatic videos last night where female retail workers, who were treated abysmally by their employer and left without their agreed redundancy packages, are being manhandled and dragged away from their picket line.”

In a statement, a spokesperson said gardaí attended the demonstration "as required in the execution of a High Court Order".

"An Garda Síochána attended a premises in Dublin City Centre as required in the execution of a High Court Order on the evening of April 22, 2021.

"An Garda Síochána has no further comment at this time," the statement said. 

The High Court last year granted an injunction that made it illegal for former Debenhams workers to stop liquidators KPMG from removing stock from the 11 shuttered stores. 

Ms Crowe said around four stores across the country had stock remaining after last night's removal. 

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