MORE than 450 jobs are being axed in a wave of retail closures as one of Ireland's best known supermarket brands will disappear from neighbourhoods around the country.
SuperValu has revealed it will take over the name of Ireland's remaining 22 Superquinn stores nationwide, resulting in the loss of 102 administration jobs over the next 18 months.
Elsewhere, Marks & Spencer (M&S) Ireland announced plans to cut 180 jobs with the closure of four stores in the Republic of Ireland later this month.
And separately, up to 180 jobs are expected to go at an M&S distribution warehouse operation, run by DHL, in Mallusk, Nowtownabbey, Co Antrim.
Jonathan Glenister, head of M&S Ireland, insisted the chain remains fully committed to its Irish business and 17 other shops nationwide.
"We have traded here for the last 35 years, employ around 2,800 people and have extraordinarily loyal Irish customers, but the last few years have been very challenging.
"During this time our Republic of Ireland business has been under continuous review and we have made savings and found efficiencies wherever possible.
"However, the retail sector outlook has not improved and we have to act now to protect the long-term good of the company."
The four stores earmarked for closure are Mullingar, Co Westmeath; Tallaght, Dublin; and M&S Simply Food stores in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin and Naas, Co Kildare. They will reopen tomorrow and trade until Saturday August 17.
M&S Ireland said a new flagship store is proposed for Limerick and will open in 2016, creating 250 new jobs, while M&S will invest in the rest of its portfolio, including a relaunch of the Grafton Street store in Dublin as an M&S regional centre.
Meanwhile DHL said its job losses are as a result of changes to the M&S supply chain. It is understood up to two thirds of the 275 permanent staff on site will be affected.
South Antrim MLA Trevor Clark said that the loss of over 180 jobs in Newtownabbey will be a blow to the local economy.
"I am disappointed at the announcement today by Marks and Spencer to relocate their distribution centres to England and Scotland," he added.
"This news will have come as a shock to employees and they are now facing the uncertainty of not knowing if they will still have a job by the end of the year."
Elsewhere the Musgrave Group announced it will be changing the name of the popular Superquinn stores to SuperValu.
Chris Martin, chief executive, said combining the stores from February will create an unrivalled Irish retail brand, enabling shoppers to access SuperValu's offer nationally, while incorporating the best of Superquinn.
"We understand that some customers will be sad to see the Superquinn name change," he said.
"However, the decision follows a considered review of all options and is an inevitable next step given the realities of a totally changed grocery market and what the Irish consumer now needs."
Musgrave Group, which acquired Superquinn out of receivership in 2011, plans to invest 10 million euro (£8.6 million) to complete the refurbishment of the Superquinn stores in its network.
Trade union representatives will meet with management at M&S tomorrow to discuss redundancy terms for staff.
SIPTU organiser Neil McGowan said the announcement was a devastating shock for the workers and their families.
"These job losses are yet another indication of the weakened demand in the domestic economy, and the retail sector in particular, that has been accentuated by the continued economic austerity policies being pursued by the Government," he said.
And Mandate trade union, which represents workers at M&S and Superquinn, claimed M&S intend to reduce a number of middle management roles in the majority of stores and cut certain terms and conditions, such as Christmas bonuses and certain premium payments.
Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light said: "Our first priority is to ensure that our members who are directly affected are afforded the widest range of options available in an effort to reduce the impact of this devastating news."
Mr Light said he welcomed the "absolute guarantee" being offered that the vast majority of his members at Superquinn will have their existing terms and conditions protected.
"Regrettably, this does not apply to the 102 workers in Lucan who have been given the devastating news that they have lost their jobs," he said.
"Sadly, we have to accept the reality that the iconic Superquinn brand has struggled over the last number of years to maintain its once healthy position held within the Irish retail grocery supermarket sector.
"In recent years a number of contributory factors led to this, principally the uncertainty which has arisen from changes in ownership and also the decline in consumer spending which is a direct consequence of the austerity policies pursued by successive governments."