A UCD student has been among those released from Garda custody on Tuesday morning following a sit-in protest at the now unoccupied Debenhams store on Dublin’s Henry Street. Sadhbh Mac Lochlainn, a representative of UCD’s Socialist Worker Student Society and a member of UCD’s People before Profit Society was one of six protestors arrested in attempts to prevent the liquidator KPMG from removing remaining stock from Irish stores following outrage at the company’s recent proposals for redundancy packages for their former workers. All charges have since been dropped.
Speaking to The College Tribune, Mac Lochlainn has insisted that the charges made against the protestors could not be substantiated and that the protest never escalated to violence or criminal activity at any point, “It was a very peaceful protest, it was a civil matter”. She added that the workers, in addition to the disputed redundancy payments, have not been paid their last weeks of wages or any outstanding holiday pay by Debenhams or KPMG.
The protest began early yesterday morning with the group consisting of three workers and three social activists noticing a broken window on the building’s first floor, before occupying its third floor for an hour long period. The group’s protest actions included the holding of placards and chanting the slogan “stand up, fight back workers’ rights are under attack” repeatedly. After a short time, Gardaí arrived to the scene and the protesters were taken to Store Street Garda station. Each member was threatened with charges of criminal damage, criminal trespass and burglary however these were later dropped. The protesters were held at the station for one hour, before each being released at around 9:30.
When asked about similar situations happening in the future, Mac Lochlainn stated “everything that has happened today was a response to the way workers have been treated which was abysmally and this would never be happening if the Duffy- Cahill report had been implemented four years ago when Cleary’s had closed… Debenhams workers are at the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights in Ireland as many businesses and workers might be affected due to the on-going COVID 19 Pandemic.”
The protest has been a continuation of strike action on behalf of Debenhams workers since the closure of the company’s Irish stores in April of this year, with a total of 1000 workers being made redundant. Shop stewards of Mandate, the workers’ union, have urged them to reject the deal liquidators KPMG are proposing as an additional redundancy payment, describing it as an “insult to members”.
Debenhams workers are demanding the liquidators to stick to an agreement made before the closure of stores that would entitle workers to four weeks redundancy pay per year of service as opposed to the statutory requirement of two weeks of redundancy pay being capped at €600 per week. KPMG have insisted that the workers’ proposed package would not be financially viable for the now defunct company as the proposals would require an additional €10 million to be sourced from remaining assets.
A similar protest has been staged in the premises of the former retailer’s Patrick Street branch in Cork City, but sources have told The College Tribune that no arrests have been made there at the time of writing.
Doireann O’Sullivan – Reporter