Abolish water charges! demands Dublin conference

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A clear message from the Dublin protesters they won’t pay water charges
A clear message from the Dublin protesters they won’t pay water charges

THE right to decent work, an end to the banks’ veto on mortgage resolutions and the abolition of water charges are among the measures in a new policy platform drawn up by Right2Water activists at a conference in Dublin on Saturday.

These policy measures will be presented at meetings across Ireland in coming weeks.

The ‘Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government’ was discussed at the conference, attended by about 300 activists including trade unionists, public representatives and academics.

Written over the past six weeks, the document draws from more than 120 submissions from groups across the Republic and sets out an agenda on such issues as decent work, housing, health, and debt justice.

The conference was hosted by the Right2Water unions – Mandate, the Civil and Public Service Union, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU), Unite and the Operative Plasterers and Allied Trades Society of Ireland.

Among those present were members of People Before Profit, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin and Independent left representatives.

Opening the conference, Congress president and general secretary of Mandate John Douglas said the aim was to engage the political activism that had grown during the Right2Water campaign in a push for wider political change.

He said: ‘The underlying piece is that the Irish political elite does not represent our communities or our families.

‘The social wage is very important – the quality of our communities, our services, in health and education.’

Douglas hoped the new platform would bring disparate groups on the left together.

He declared: ‘If we continue to cannibalise our own votes we will always be in a minority.

‘We are seeking to create a broad platform and to extend the campaign beyond the right to water.

‘The vast majority of people in this country want to see a different type of politics.’

The conference and policy document follow an initial meeting on 1st May, also hosted by the Right2Water unions, at which the idea of drawing up a wider policy agenda than one focussed solely on fighting water charges was first discussed.

Ireland’s CWU general secretary Steve Fitzpatrick described the document as a ‘work in progress’.

He told the assembled activists: ‘Over the next few months we will bring the documents to every citizen in every corner of the country.

‘It will be like a roadshow where the document and the principles will be presented and local trade unionists, public representatives and community activists will be involved in bringing people together to talk about what kind of country we want.’

Claiming nothing like it had ever been done in Irish politics before, Fitzpatrick said the project ‘is very exciting’.

The campaign would not run candidates in the forthcoming general election, but candidates would be asked to endorse its principles.

But Fitzpatrick said there would also be ‘another national event’, such as a national rally or protest, during the summer to ‘keep momentum going’.

l SIPTU members marched to Clerys Department Store on O’Connell Street, Dublin, at lunchtime on Saturday, 13th June, demanding fair treatment and justice less than 24 hours after their jobs were made redundant with immediate effect.

Following a meeting on Saturday morning at Liberty Hall more than a hundred employees of the company, some of whom have worked for over 40 years at the iconic Dublin store, marched to demand the store’s new owners and management agree to immediate talks with their union.

SIPTU Organiser, Teresa Hannick said: ‘All right-thinking people will unreservedly condemn the treatment of these workers.

‘Only a few hours after staff had learned that Clerys had been sold by Gordon Brothers Ireland to the real estate company, Natrium Ltd, they were then told the company was being liquidated.

‘They have yet to meet any representatives of Gordon Brothers Ireland or Natrium Ltd.

‘The workers only learned that their jobs were lost when a liquidator from KPMG arrived at the store at around 5pm on Friday and told them the company was closing.

‘Several of our members in Clerys have never worked anywhere else.

‘Our shop steward has worked for the company for 43 years.

‘He was told by the liquidator with only 30 minutes notice that he had to leave the place where he had worked for over four decades, before the doors were to be padlocked shut.

‘This treatment of honest hard working people marks a despicable new low in the annals of Irish business practice.’

Staff in Clerys staged a sit-in on Friday after they were told their jobs were gone after the company was sold to a new owner.

The business employs 130 people, while another 330 work for 50 ‘concession holders’, who also operate in the store.

Some 20 staff remained in the building until shortly before 9pm.

Earlier plans to continue the sit-in overnight were called off.

Martin O’Sullivan, co-owner of a carpet and rugs concession in the store, said: ‘We’re out of business; we’re gone. I’ve just been told that we’re at the bottom of a list of unsecured creditors.

‘The people still inside are very annoyed. KPMG have offered a two-week basic redundancy package.

‘It’s a mean spirited way to deal with people, many of whom have been there for years.’

Teresa Hannick, a SIPTU sector organiser, said workers were left ‘shellshocked’ by the announcement and that staff were ordered by security to leave the building.

Earlier on Friday, the High Court appointed joint provisional liquidators to the company.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan appointed insolvency practitioners Eamon Richardson and Kieran Wallace of KPMG, as joint provisional liquidators of OCS Operations Ltd, which since 2012 operated Clerys.

The company petitioned the court for the liquidators’ appointment saying the store must immediately cease trading to prevent any further debts arising.

The court heard the company is unlikely to have sufficient monies to make upcoming payments, including those due early next week, and is unable to pay its debts.

The liquidators would be best placed to preserve the value of the business, deal with employees, the concession holders and creditors, the company said.

One of the workers said staff only learned of the news that the company had been sold to real estate firm Natrium that afternoon.

She said: ‘We were only told about 1.30pm, after it was on the news, that the company had been sold.

‘Up to now (4.40pm) we still haven’t met our new owners. We’re all a bit worried and don’t know what’s happening.’

She added that the unions’ representatives had been told at 1.25pm about the take over.

She said: ‘The union reps have told us they’re looking for a meeting with the new management, but there’s no one here from them.

‘My union said they were a bit worried because a real estate agent’s bought it.

‘We have been taken over, but no one from the new company is here. Mandate hasn’t been told what’s happening.’

The trade unions have been seeking an ‘urgent’ meeting with the new owners of Clerys over fears for around 120 jobs.

Staff are ‘worried and upset’ after the sale of the department store to a group led by property investors D2 Private, according to Mandate trade union organiser Michael Meegan.

He said: ‘’The hope was it (Clerys) would be sold to a retailer, but that is not what has materialised.’

He said he had contacted the new owners seeking an urgent meeting as soon as the sale was announced, adding Clerys is an iconic brand.

He warned: ‘If it does go it will do a lot of damage to businesses on O’Connell St.’

Natrium Ltd is a joint venture between D2 Private and discretionary funds managed by Cheyne Capital Management, which is based in the UK.

Irish property company D2 Private, meanwhile, is led by Irish businesswoman Deirdre Foley.

The store had been owned by OCS Operations, which is part of the US-based private equity and investment company Gordon Brothers Group.