Saturday 22 October 2016

Gardaí went into offices of company linked to Clerys sale

Aodhan O'Faolain

Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30

Workers protesting outside Clerys department store last June (Picture: INM)
Workers protesting outside Clerys department store last June (Picture: INM)
Deirdre Foley, director and owner of D2 Private Limited

Gardaí entered the offices of an investment firm linked to the sale of Clerys as a probe continues into the closure of the department store which cost 460 staff their jobs.

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A High Court challenge has now been brought against the powers used during the investigation into redundancies at the iconic Dublin shop.

D2 Private Ltd and its director and owner Deidre Foley brought the case after inspectors, along with members of An Garda Síochána, entered the firm's offices at Harcourt Terrace in Dublin on Thursday.

The inspectors had been appointed by the Workplace Relations Commission following the Dublin store's closure in June 2015.

About 460 people, either employed by Clerys or concession holders, lost their jobs.

The store closed shortly after it was sold to Natrium Ltd by previous owners, the Gordon Brothers Group.

Natrium is a joint venture made up of Irish investment group D2 Private Ltd, and Cheyne Capital Management in the UK.

Yesterday in court, Mr Justice Anthony Hunt heard that the inspectors relied on parts of the 1977 Protection of Employment Act and the 2015 Workplace Relations Act. These include the powers to enter premises and seize documents.

After entering D2 Private's offices the inspectors sought a laptop belonging to a company employee and certain books and records. The laptop was taken by the inspectors, the court heard.

The documents include correspondence with the liquidators and directors of the company that had operated Clerys - OCS Operations, before Natrium acquired the Store.

But Ms Foley and D2 Private reject that the inspectors have the power to enter their premises, or to lawfully take the computer or documents.

In their action against the Commission and the inspectors, they want an order quashing the requirement to hand over materials. They also want a declaration that the use of the investigatory powers is unlawful.

Barrister Breffni Gordon BL, for the Minister for Jobs, said his client opposes the application.

He said the investigation was being conducted to see if a criminal prosecution should be brought arising out of the workers' collective redundancy.

But barrister Eoin McCullough SC, for Ms Foley and D2 Private, said they were never the employers of and had no connection with the Clerys workers.

The documents sought and the materials on the computer are outside the remit of the investigation and there was no valid basis for taking them, he said.

Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the case to Monday.

The judge accepted an undertaking the laptop would be kept by a solicitor for the department and not interfered with.

Irish Independent

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