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03 December 2008

Recession likened to potato famine

THERE are fears for the Harvey Norman store in Castlebar after the head of the retail giant compared Ireland’s economic downturn to the return of the “potato famine”.

At the company’s annual meeting, chief executive Gerry Harvey described the performance of his 13 Irish stores as “catastrophic” and said he regretted expanding into the Irish market. But he added that the investment was too big to pull out now.

“In Ireland, we are down 2540 per cent like for like on last year. It’s catastrophic,” he told reporters.

“Ireland is a real worry. I’ve never seen something get belted like Ireland. In Slovenia, it’s holding up quite well, Singapore’s sales are quite good, Malaysia is good. New Zealand, like Australia, its not that bad, but Ireland. Phew, just imagine you opened in Ireland; you’d want to go and cut your throat. The potato famine, someone said, the return of the potato famine in Ireland.”

The company’s CEO, Katie Page, said: “It’s a depressing time for a lot of people, certainly for the executive directors here; we are working so hard, we wish that Ireland wouldn’t return to a potato famine.” More than 25 people are employed in the Castlebar store.

Another of the town’s retail employer’s, Sasha, also faces an uncertain future.

An interim examiner has been appointed by the High Court to the Sasha chain of women’s clothing stores, comprising 42 stores across the State on which more than 500 jobs depend. The court was told the company is believed to have a reasonable prospect of survival, provided certain conditions are met.

The judge heard the company was currently unable or likely to be unable to pay its debts, totalling some €10m. It employs 380 people directly, while 120 additional jobs are indirectly dependent on it.

The company’s creditors include Bank of Ireland, which is owed more than €2.4m, and the Revenue Commissioners, which is owed €2.18m.

The company had laid off some people involved in buying and warehousing stock and the directors believed a new business model would ensure a viable business.

The full story is available in our print and digital editions.

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