I will try to respond to some of the questions. The PUP entitlements is not an issue I was aware of. It is certainly something I can check out, if Deputy Conway-Walsh wants to give me the details. I will certainly discuss that with my ministerial colleague behind me, Deputy Humphreys. We can certainly look at that, if there is any issue with PUP entitlements and unfairness. In fairness, that Department has responded strongly throughout Covid regarding PUP entitlements. I note the Deputy is nodding in agreement. If there is any issue there, we can work on that. There has been a strong response from that Department and from the Government as a whole when it comes to those payments right throughout the system and we recognise the various sectors as well.
It is important that all of us in this House are honest with people in this situation and tell them the truth. The truth is a collective agreement is a third-party private agreement made between employees and companies. It is not a State agreement. It is not something the State has given statutory backing to and, therefore, I cannot say that the State will pay out on that. The State, through the Social Insurance Fund, which is a fund put together by taxpayers and by workers, pays out on statutory entitlements, which is two weeks' redundancy, holiday pay, wages due, etc. That is what it is. It is wrong, and slightly dishonest, to say the State can or should pay out on a third-party agreement. It does not do that, and it has not in the case of Debenhams and in this case as well.
We are not at the redundancy stage here yet. There has been no notification of it yet. We all hope to avoid that. Without doubt I hope, for all those employees' sakes, we can avoid that.
I can confirm that the State, of course, will step in and make sure statutory entitlements are paid. That is what the State does for everybody, and rightly so, but the company has the first responsibility to pay out on that. If this ends up in a full liquidation process through the courts - it is not at that stage yet - the various assets of the company will have to be looked at by the liquidators in view of the courts to deal with who gets paid what after that. The State steps in for statutory entitlements and will not be found wanting - I can confirm that to the employees - for their statutory entitlements.
The Debenhams case was mentioned. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has processed at this stage more than 1,600 applications to two funds to recognise the workers' statutory entitlements in Debenhams as well.
I reiterate that there is a connection being made here with this company and Debenhams' company and other companies as well. Every situation is a little different but it suits some Members to constantly try and draw a connection to Clerys. I say again that I have not seen the evidence to say that the Debenhams or Arcade Group cases are the same as Clerys, yet Members keep bringing that up here on a regular basis. Connecting the two adds to the dishonest conversation for all these employees who are in a vulnerable and difficult situation. If there is evidence to say they are the same, I ask Members to bring it forward because I have not seen it. There are laws and protections there.
I met the Debenhams workers and I gave a strong commitment that I would work with them and others, specifically, with Gerry Light of Mandate, to strengthen the legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and myself, on behalf of the Tánaiste and the Department, met and said to Debenhams that we will strengthen the workers there and that if we can identify areas of weakness in the law in respect of insolvency and redundancy, we will strengthen that. There are working groups doing that work. It is an ongoing process. They are linked back there. If we can find in that process - the committee is doing the same - areas where we can strengthen that, we will do that. That is different from trying to draw a link with Debenhams or Arcadia Group to Clerys. If the Deputies believe that, I ask them to show me the evidence and bring it in. It would certainly help me do my job and it would certainly help other Departments do their job as well. However, to constantly draw that link and make the connection is unfair to the workers of those different companies.
As the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, I will go to great lengths to strengthen legislation when I can prove it will be effective and worthwhile. There have been reports of that in the past. Where we can make changes, we will do that. That commitment was given to the Debenhams workers.
Deputy Conway-Walsh is correct that they had two asks in their campaign. The first was that the company would pay out on the collective agreement they had made. That is what they want and they are out protesting to get that entitlement. They are entitled to chase that up, demand that and look for that. The second part of their campaign was that we as a Government would change legislation to strengthen it to prevent such cases in the future. Their ask is probably related to an assumption that Debenhams is the same as Clerys. I said that regardless of what the connections are with any companies, we will examine the legislation to make it stronger and better, if we can, to protect their entitlements going forward. However, I have to also be honest. There is a difference between statutory entitlements and private agreements through collective bargaining. We are looking at that area as well. The programme for Government does that. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste said it as well. We recognise that too. However, they are two separate issues and they are not always recognised as separate in this House. For employees, of course, they want to pursue all their entitlements as much as they can, and rightly so. They should do that.