UK retail giant Debenhams is closing in on a deal to lease 11 Roches stores in Ireland, fulfilling its aim of boosting its retail presence in the country.

Reports suggest that Debenhams has already signed a heads of agreement to lease the family-owned, Cork-based operator's stores. Roches has been reining in its retail operations since closing its supermarkets two years ago.

Under the deal, the Roche family will retain their property interests and charge substantial rent for the stores, with the company's staff transferring to Debenhams.

Spanish fashion company Zara is set to retain its presence in the Roches stores, but there are doubts over the continued activities of other third-party operators, including Sunglass Hut and Clarks.

Debenhams currently has stores in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, and the Roches stores will give the company an additional presence in Galway, Wexford and Limerick.

The company has been eager for some time to expand its Irish presence, and floated on the London Stock Exchange in May, raising GBP1.7bn (US$3.1bn).