The Mandate trade union, which represents retail workers, has called on the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty to appoint an authorised officer to intervene in the liquidation of the Irish operation of the Debenhams retail chain. 

The union demand follows Debenhams' decision to place its Irish retail operation of 11 stores into liquidation with the loss of up to 1,500 jobs. 

A small protest by Debenhams workers took place outside Leinster House today calling on the Minister to engage with liquidators KPMG and the UK parent company.

In a letter to Minister Doherty, Mandate General Secretary John Douglas reminds the minister that there will be a significant cost to the State in redundancy and welfare payments if the staff are made redundant. 

He called for the appointment of an Authorised Officer "... to consult with the liquidators regarding the aforementioned matters, so as to ascertain whether any of the quality retail jobs can be saved".

Mr Douglas claims that the liquidator, KPMG has given the union insufficient information to indicate whether there is a reasonable prospect of saving any of the jobs - including ownership of Debenhams' Irish stockholding and online business, as well as the ownership and the valuation of store leases. 

The union is also seeking recent company accounts and a list of current landlords and their respective positions regarding rent reductions.

Minister Doherty has previously confirmed to Mandate that she was seeking urgent advice from the Attorney General as to whether she had any powers to intervene where a company was already in liquidation, and the liquidators were in charge, rather than the employer. 

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, she said that the legislation does not allow her to interfere with a legal process. 

She said the legislation allowed her to engage with an employer but liquidators had already been appointed.  

Ms Doherty has praised Debanhams workers saying they have acted with "dignity and composure" in the last few weeks.

She said it has "really bothered her" that the workers have had their names taken at pickets when other people were doing other things that seemed to be flouting the law. 

The Minister said that some of the workers had been with the company for up to 40 years, and how they were being treated by their employer does not reflect the commitment that the workers have given to the company.

Minister Regina Doherty 

"Accordingly, I would be grateful if you could set out for me what precise problems it is that you think can be addressed by an officer appointed by me and what powers you think are available under the Act to do that and if in fact that can be done where a court appointed liquidator is in place of the employer," she told Mandate.

In his response, Mandate General Secretary John Douglas insisted the Minister did have the power to appoint an Authorised Officer - and cited European case law to confirm that the obligation to inform and consult employees' representatives applies even where a company has been wound up by the High Court, with the obligation devolving upon the liquidator. 

Meanwhile, Solidarity People Before Profit TD Mick Barry and former TD, Ruth Coppinger have written to the liquidators and to the Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys querying the extent to which KPMG considered availing of Government support measures including low  interest loans, wage subsidies, deferral of taxes and rates to retain at least some of the jobs. 

Additional reporting Aisling Kenny