Former Debenhams workers say they never imagined they'd still be picketing one year after losing their jobs.
On April 9th 2020 - in the middle of the first COVID-19 lockdown - around 1,000 Irish Debenhams workers received an email telling them they were losing their jobs.
The Irish arm of the business entered liquidation, with all 11 stores across the country closing.
Some of the workers have now spent 365 days fighting for a redundancy package and - in some cases - the personal belongings still in lockers inside the stores.
Debenhams stores across the country have been picketed daily, while there have also been marches on the Dáil and demonstrations outside of the offices of liquidator KPMG.
There have also been meetings with the Taoiseach and other Government officials, but a year on workers are still unhappy with the offers that have been put on the table.
For The Hard Shoulder, reporter Barry Whyte spoke to some of the former workers about their year of demonstrations.
One woman said: “I worked in Debenhams for 24 years… it’s unbelievable we’re still here.
“It’s been very tough. You do miss all your workmates, but because of the picketing, we have been able to keep up - with social distancing, of course.
“We have timetables - we’ve done two or three days a week for the last year.”
She said they're determined that stock will not leave the stores until the dispute is settled.
She also expressed frustration with the Government's response, saying: “I’ve been a Fianna Fáil supporter all my life, and so are my family - my father canvassed for them back in the 60s. But I can promise you I will never vote for them again.”
Another former worker told Barry: “We didn’t think that a year on, we’d still be picketing the stores and protecting the stock.
“There have been good days and bad days… out in the snow and rain… out at 6:30am in the morning, in pitch black during the winter… and then the pandemic as well.”
An end to the dispute may now be in sight, amid ongoing talks aimed at securing a €3 million fund for ex-workers to retrain or start their own business.
The deal was previously rejected by workers, but an updated and more finely-tuned deal is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.
Brian Forbes of the Mandate trade union says this may be the best offer the workers will get.
He explained: “It was balloted on previously, but it’s still in play. We’re working with Solas and the Department… to see if we can find a resolution to this long-running dispute that would satisfy the need of the workers and deal with legacy issues… so no one else has to go through what these brave workers have gone through.
“A €3 million fund - for use by all of the members and workers - is, of course, better than nothing. As a union, we worked very, very hard to secure much more for the workers.
"However, the Taoiseach and the Government have made it abundantly and explicitly clear that the €3 million fund is really the only show in town and there won’t be a cash sum available.”
However, retraining is not an appealing offer for some of the ex-workers.
Some of the Debenhams staff are aged in their 60s and don't believe retraining is an appealing or useful opportunity.
One former worker said: “I have great problems with that. I am in my 60s… the courses they offer are not fantastic, and wouldn’t serve me anyway.
“I just don’t think it’s very fair to my age group - and there are quite a lot of people in this age group who would be in the 60-mark.”