BOI closures will have 'crippling impact' on local economies
The proposed closure of 103 Bank Of Ireland branches nationwide, including 10 in the immediate region, has drawn condemnation from across the political and representative spectrum.
“It will drain the life blood out of our small towns,” said Fine Gael's Joe O'Reilly, striking a particularly despondent tone commenting on Monday's shock announcement.
“This decision must change,” he said of BOI's move to reduce its network by 88 to 169 branches.
In Northern Ireland 15 branches will close, leaving 13 open.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, Niamh Smyth, described the move as “deeply disappointing” and one which will have “crippling impact” on rural services across the region.
“As we continue to battle this pandemic, small businesses require the services of their local branch, now more than ever. Every effort must be made to ensure that the business community will not be disproportionately impacted by this crippling decision,” said Deputy Smyth.
Her Dáil colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, described the decision as "regrettable".
"It is deplorable that Bank of Ireland is making this decision during a pandemic when there has been, of necessity, a dramatic reduction in footfall in our towns and villages and understandably less and less people attending branches.
"This means a further dramatic reduction in banking competition and shows no regard for staff and local communities who have been loyal to the Bank of Ireland over many many decades,” slammed the Fianna Fáil TD.
Sinn Féin TD for Cavan-Monaghan Pauline Tully agrees that the closures, due September, is the “wrong decision at the worst possible time” for customers and staff.
“This comes in the teeth of a global pandemic and less than two weeks after Ulster Bank announced its withdrawal from the southern market,” she said, adding: “Bank of Ireland has attempted to justify this announcement based on a fall in branch visits over the past 12 months. This is hardly surprising given the entire population has had its movements significantly restricted in response to a public health emergency.”
Deputy Tully's party colleague in Sligo-Leitrim, Martin Kenny, was equally critical of the timing and the context given. “In reality, the bank is using Covid-19 for cover, punishing customers for following public health regulations. This is not just a cynical move, but a slap in the face that will hurt customers, staff and communities,” he said. “This knee-jerk reaction will leave vulnerable customers without access to essential services.”
Aontú's Sarah O'Reilly, Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council meanwhile said that the lack of banking competition in Ireland has led to a “duopoly”.
“Customers have to accept any decisions these banks make because they have nowhere else to go. This, despite both Pillar Banks being very profitable and paying no tax. This is getting worse due the exit of Ulster Bank from the Irish market.”
Labour representative for Cavan, Liam van Spek accused the Central Bank of being “asleep at the wheel” in allowing these closures
Calling for the government to intervene, he said: “Branches provide a focal point not just for everyday banking but wider community itself. These closures will change the face of our towns, and the impact will be seen on our main streets, felt by family businesses and I am gravely worried about the impact this will have locally.”
There has been condemnation from within the farming sector also. ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has said the decision to close 103 branches will serve only to “exacerbate the growing detachment” of banks from their customers in rural Ireland. “The decision will be a disaster for many bank customers who do not have access to quality broadband. The digital divide is going to get worse before it gets better, and yet again rural Ireland is being let down.”
However, aside from announcing branch closures, Bank of Ireland revealed it had agreed a new partnership with An Post to offer customers banking retail services at more than 900 post office locations across Ireland.
An Post has welcomed the agreement.
Debbie Byrne, managing director of An Post Retail said the new partnership is in line with the organisation's strategy to become a leading provider of community financial services for personal customers and SMEs. “We will continue to work to build a sustainable and successful national post office network that’s modernised, re-invigorated and offering new and relevant products and services for communities on their doorstep,” she said.
For reaction on the ground in Arva, Cootehill and Kingscourt, see tomorrow's print edition of the Celt.