Debenhams is a court-supervised liquidation, subject to oversight of the High Court and accordingly is sub judice. Under the Companies Act 2014, I have no power to intervene in a court-supervised liquidation.
Similarly, the Government cannot intervene with a liquidator, who has a statutory duty to realise assets and distribute to creditors in accordance with the law and who reports to the High Court.
Notwithstanding this, I, the Taoiseach and Government Ministers have met on a number of occasions with Debenhams employees and union representatives from Mandate to hear their views and concerns, including those on the treatment of stock and other assets. While the Government cannot interfere with the High Court-overseen liquidation process, Ministers have sought at all times to ensure that the concerns of workers are heard and that the State’s employment and training services are responding to the needs of workers.
All companies, regardless of size, are required to comply with the extensive provisions of the Companies Act 2014. Alongside company law, companies must comply with other legal requirements such as the treatment of employees and creditors and disclosure to Revenue.
The Companies Act 2014 provides safeguards to ensure that a liquidation process complies with the relevant statutory requirements and provides provisions which may be utilised by liquidators or creditors of an insolvent company in appropriate cases. This includes section 608 regarding the power of the court to order the return of assets which have been improperly transferred and section 599 where a related company may be required to contribute to the debts of a company being wound up. A range of factors will be involved for liquidators or creditors in deciding whether to pursue litigation based on these provisions of the Companies Act 2014.
The liquidator of an insolvent company must report to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) on its demise and must also apply to the High Court for the restriction of each of the directors of the company, unless they are relieved of that obligation by the ODCE.
Section 949(3) of the Companies Act 2014 provides that the Director of Corporate Enforcement shall be independent in the performance of his statutory functions. I, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment have no direct function in such matters.
The ODCE will examine all complaints it receives about suspected breaches of the Companies Act by a company or one of its directors/agents. Where a breach of company law has been clearly established, the ODCE will take action as appropriate.