Former Debenhams staff removed from blockade after 4-hour standoff

Liquidator KPMG had begun packing stock at the Waterford store at City Square a fortnight ago, with standoffs having taken place at other stores around the country in recent weeks including in Dublin and Tralee
Former Debenhams staff removed from blockade after 4-hour standoff

Ex-Debenhams staff in Waterford were removed from their blockade of the company's store overnight after a four-hour standoff.

Ex-Debenhams staff in Waterford were removed from their blockade of the company's store overnight after a four-hour standoff.

Gardaí, liquidator KPMG and security staff moved on the picket in the early hours of Tuesday morning, almost 400 days into the former workers' protest.

Liquidator KPMG had begun packing stock at the Waterford store at City Square a fortnight ago, with standoffs having taken place at other stores around the country in recent weeks including in Dublin and Tralee. 

Gardaí had attended those removals to execute a High Court order on the blockades.

The standoff centred around the terms of the redundancy package, which staff felt had left them short-changed.

The dispute came to a head in Waterford on Tuesday morning when six Garda vans and over 30 gardaí facilitated KPMG with the removal of old stock. 

Blockade 

The vans and barricades blocked access to the narrow streets around the store, while a number of the protesters were carried off the picket by gardaí. 

They arrived around midnight and it lasted until past 4am, with two trucks packed with stock before departing.

While some of the picketers criticised gardaí for their involvement and claimed they had "forcibly removed" some of their number, a Garda spokesman said the operation had passed without incident. 

A number of other protesters were escorted off the blockade by gardaí. No arrests were made, according to gardaí.

The removal came days after Mandate trade union members received postal ballots last week to vote on a deal that may see them stand down their pickets. 

It’s a proposal by the Department of Higher Education to create a €3 million retraining fund for ex-staff.

Some of the protesters had spent nearly 20 hours on the picket throughout Monday and Tuesday, with one commenting on a Facebook live feed of the standoff that it had been "a long year" and many there involved were suffering tiredness.

Trade union Mandate has also posted ballots to members for a vote on a fund that would provide retraining to laid-off workers.

Shop steward Michelle Gavin, who worked at the store for 27 years, said recent weeks had been stressful but added that they have no regrets over their stance. 

"We stood strong, we had to see it to the end whichever way it was going to be."

Protesters chanted "the workers united, will never be defeated", while support also emerged throughout the night from a number of former Waterford Crystal staff and local politicians, who arrived onto the scene.

"On the day the country has just opened up restrictions for families to meet loved ones and get back to some retail normality, these workers had to once again patrol the picket line," said Councillor Jim Griffin.

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