Posted on November 13, 2015 at 12:51 PM

Ethel Buckley - Divisional Organiser, SIPTU Services Division
Ethel Buckley
Divisional Organiser, SIPTU Services Division

SIPTU's Ethel Buckley on the continuing injustice done to Clerys workers


What are Deirdre Foley, John Skelly and Ronan Daly so afraid of?

They are the directors of Natrium Ltd, the shadowy company that shut Clerys on June 12, resulting in over 400 job losses.

Five months on, not one of the three has agreed to meet with the workers whose livelihoods they so abruptly destroyed.

As Clerys worker and SIPTU shop steward Gerry Markey explained:  “We are asking Deirdre Foley and the other new owners to meet us face-to-face. My colleagues and I think that after our many years of loyal service to the company we deserve to be treated with respect.

"The new owners should meet us so we can sit down and discuss the situation."

The Natrium Three have declined that and every other invitation to meet.

To date, just a single press release has emerged from behind the impenetrable wall of corporate silence to where they have retreated.

It boasted of their ‘transformational’ plans for the iconic Dublin store.

The statement was released on June 19, just one week after they closed Clerys.

It talked of plans for “a major new mixed use destination in Dublin City Centre and to create large numbers of sustainable jobs.”

Hard to square that with the organised destruction of 130 jobs in a single afternoon.

But it is equally strange that a business which claims to have such a visionary plan has now taken a vow of silence.

If their interest is in development and genuine job creation, then why not meet the Clerys workers and outline those plans? 

What exactly are they afraid of?

It later emerged - courtesy of a leaked email – that the Natrium statement had been issued to try and divert attention from the social and economic carnage they had caused on June 12:

“The noise volume around Clerys has reduced slightly, it’s a week since the liquidation action was taken, and Deidre and I feel it appropriate timing wise to commence our PR…..”

If that was Phase One of a planned campaign to win over the public and convince both Clerys workers and trade unions to slink quietly away, it has backfired spectacularly.

Instead, the Justice for Clerys Workers campaign has gone from strength to strength and a petition calling on Natrium to meet the Clerys workers has gathered almost 25,000 signatures and growing, while messages of solidarity have been received from all over the world. 

Christy Moore performed a sold-out concert in Liberty Hall last month in support of the campaign.

An emergency  meeting of Dublin City Council in June – called  to discuss the closure - passed a unanimous resolution to extend the Special Planning Control Scheme for O’Connell Street, that was due to expire in September 2015. 

The Scheme specifically mentioned the social and cultural significance of Clerys for the North Inner City of Dublin and the nation as a whole. 

Unanimously, the Council stated that it “will not agree to alter the use of the entire Clerys building because of the iconic status of Clerys and resolves that it must continue to be used as retail space which is an essential part of the retail experience of the city centre and that change of use is not appropriate and will not be entertained.”  

Protests have been held at Clerys, the offices of A&L Goodbody - the registered home of Natrium - and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation (DJEI).  

On behalf of the workers, I want to thank everyone who has come out to show their support and to invite you to continue to demonstrate the solidarity for which our movement is renowned.

The next protest takes place outside the DJEI offices on Tuesday, November 17 at 2pm and Congress is encouraging all affiliates and activists to show their support.

It is taking place at that location because what happened on June 12 may have been legal, but it certainly wasn’t right.

Congress General Secretary Patricia King has repeatedly outlined to Minister Bruton how a major loophole in Irish corporate law must be closed to prevent another Clerys happening.

“We believe the closure of Clerys was not a normal commercial failure and it is our judgement that the directors involved contravened the terms of the Protection of Employment Act and did this by contriving a company restructuring, for the purpose of dissipating the assets of the employer company to maximise their own benefits and deny the workers fundamental dignity and respect by avoiding normal procedures.

“This manipulation has resulted in the taxpayer footing the entire bill through the Insolvency Fund,” she pointed out.

Minister Bruton needs to act and Deirdre Foley, John Skelly and Ronan Daly need to start treating the workers of Clerys with the respect and dignity they deserve.

They can rest assured our campaign will continue until Clerys workers get the justice and dignity they have been denied.

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