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Taoiseach's criticism for Debenhams after arrests

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Jane Crowe (second from left) with fellow Debenhams
workers Michael O’Brien, Doreen Keegan and Sadhbh Mac Lochlainn

Jane Crowe (second from left) with fellow Debenhams workers Michael O’Brien, Doreen Keegan and Sadhbh Mac Lochlainn

Jane Crowe (second from left) with fellow Debenhams workers Michael O’Brien, Doreen Keegan and Sadhbh Mac Lochlainn

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has condemned Debenhams' treatment of former workers as "shabby, shoddy and unacceptable" after some of them were arrested during a sit-in.

Six people, including three ex-employees, were taken to Store Street Garda Station in Dublin after entering a store on Henry Street through a broken window around 7am yesterday.

After they were taken away in vans, passers-by stopped to look at graffiti spread across the walls of the department store.

"Debenhams right back@you.ie" and "KPMG 2 + 2 = end!", it read, referring to the workers' demand that liquidators KPMG grant them a redundancy package worth four weeks pay per year of service.

It is over 150 days since staff began protests after the high street chain announced it was closing its 11 Irish stores with the loss of over 1,000 jobs.

Released

After being released from the garda station, former worker Jane Crowe (50) said she and her colleagues were manning pickets when they noticed a broken window. "So we took our opportunity and entered the store," she said.

They were on the third floor when the gardaí arrived.

"We didn't break anything," she said. "We went in to make our point, that we're still looking for our collectively agreed redundancy deal of two plus two," she said.

Liquidator KPMG withdrew an offer agreed with Mandate to top up the workers' statutory redundancy entitlement.

But Ms Crowe described it as "abysmal", and said it was worth a fifth of a week's wages for most people. She said she would have got €60 because she worked part time. She wants Debenhams to "prioritise the employees as creditors" and fund the extra two weeks with the sale of stock.

"I do need to get a proper deal," she said. "I'm a single parent for 21 years. My son is 21, and he's in college and I'm the sole earner in the house.

"I'm on a moratorium at the moment with my mortgage, which runs out next month. So I need something to help me with my mortgage."

Her former colleague Doreen Keegan said she was shocked after her arrest and time in a cell.

"I've never even had a parking ticket in my life," she said.

"We were having a peaceful protest and we were just trying to highlight that the offer that was out at the weekend was very insulting to staff and we really all felt we had to escalate it to get our voices heard. That's why we did what we did."

All sides need to get back around the table in the dispute, the Taoiseach said, as he saluted the courage of the workers who occupied Debenhams stores in Dublin, Cork and Tralee.

"I salute their courage and perseverance," said Mr Martin, who met workers on the picket line in Cork. "I've nothing but admiration for them."

He did not comment directly on the occupations, but said the treatment of the employees had been "shabby, shoddy and unacceptable".

KPMG said the liquidators withdrew their support for the settlement and no further agreements will be negotiated.