State chasing €2m taxpayers lost in Clerys closure

It's possible Natrium's pocket will be hit beyond that goodwill payment...

Clerys' Clock, Snackbox Films,

The iconic Clerys' Clock on O'Connell St [Flickr/John Hickey - fotosbyjohnh]

With a deal that included a "significant" goodwill payment struck between former Clerys workers and Natrium, the owners of the soon-to-be redeveloped O'Connell Street landmark, on Monday, the curtain seemed to be falling on the controversy surrounding OCS's closure of the iconic department store in 2015.

However, the not-insignificant matter of the €2.5 million tab the State was forced to settle, to deal primarily with the statutory redundancy entitlements owed to the 130 direct Clerys employees that lost their jobs, remains.

The Department of Social Protection told Newstalk that it is "actively pursuing recovery of this debt in line with its employer debt management policy and is a preferential creditor in the ongoing liquidation of OCS Operations Limited".

It also pointed out another avenue for potential recourse – new owners Natrium.

The Department said it is "considering how the provisions of the Companies Act, including Section 599, may be used to recover the expenditure from the Social Insurance Fund".

That section states that:

"[A] related company may be required to contribute to debts of company being wound up...

"That order is one that any company that is or has been related to the company being wound up shall pay to the liquidator of that company an amount equivalent to the whole or part of all or any of the debts provable in that winding up."

Whether or not Natrium would fulfil the criteria and be liable for the debt remains to be seen – the Department has received legal advice from the Attorney General's office on the subject and is now "examining its possible next steps".

Natrium is chiefly owned by London property investment and hedge fund firm Cheyne, with Dublin property investor Deirdre Foley having a 20% stake in the business.

Foley (pictured) made a rare public appearance at the announcement of the deal in Dublin's Mansion House yesterday.

While details were scant – with full disclosure withheld to ensure the deal brokered by Lord Mayor Brendan Carr went ahead – SIPTU was sufficiently satisfied to withdraw its objections to planning permission at the site.

The service of ex-Clerys workers will be considered during the employment phase of the new development.

Ethel Buckley of SIPTU, an active participant in brokering the deal, thanked Foley and Natrium, whilst acknowledging that they had "bitter" differences of opinion over the last two years.

She also said that she looked forward to absolutely fair and unionised employment in the new development.

The site is set to feature a 176-bedroom hotel, retail units and office space, with some €150m being invested in the project. The building was bought by Natrium for €29m during the summer of 2015.

You can see some images of the proposed development below: