‘A serious blow to rural areas’
Cavan County Council members expressed outrage at the news that six of the county’s towns are set to lose bank branches following announcements in recent weeks by Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland.The issue was discussed by members at the March statutory meeting of the local authority.
Ulster Bank closures will see branches in Cavan, Ballyjamesduff and Ballyconnell shut their doors within the next three years; while Arva, Cootehill and Kingscourt are the trio on The Bank of Ireland’s list of branches earmarked for closures from September under the latest rationalisation plan.
The Ulster Bank parent company, Nat West, confirmed in late February that it was withdrawing from the Irish market; while Bank of Ireland’s bombshell was dropped last week as the bank say “the acceleration in digital banking has now reached a tipping point”.
Three members of the local authority tabled motions on the matter for Monday’s meeting. Cllrs Sean Smith (FF), Cllr Peter McVitty (FF) and Cllr Clifford Kelly (FF) all had the issue listed for discussion on the members’ items of the agenda.
Addressing the chamber Cllr Smith said the closures will have “a severe impact on staff, customers and communities”.
“There has been a dramatic change in banking services in the last number of years,” Cllr Smith told members.
“It’s deplorable that Bank of Ireland use the excuse of lower numbers to make this decision during a pandemic. It’s understandable fewer people are going into branches because of health restrictions.”
Cllr McVitty described the move as “a serious blow to rural areas”.
The Fine Gael representative said: “Over the last number of years they have been slipping in the thin end of the wedge. You can’t even meet a bank manager in the branches now. We have to go down a different route. Credit unions and post offices will play a major role in keeping towns alive in the coming years.”
Cllr Kelly spoke of the public reaction. “There has been great shock in my own town at the announcement of the closure of Bank of Ireland. It’s a serious blow to Kingscourt and Cootehill,” he said.
Pointing to repercussions of the move on business and tourism, Cllr Kelly lamented the decision: “This is nothing short of disgraceful. They decided over a short period of time to pack up shop with no regard to the effect on communities.
“It’s terrible. I hope the credit union can put facilities in place. If there is no ATM, people will just travel to other areas and this will affect the whole community. I am calling on the government to intervene,” Cllr Kelly said.
Fine Gael’s Madeleine Argue (FG) said that many people felt betrayed by the bank’s decision: “Bank of Ireland were bailed out by the people of Ireland. They have shown no gratitude. I don’t know what people are going to do.”
She suggested that government buy the bank premises to develop as remote working hubs.
Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF) spoke of “a crisis point” for Irish banking: “We are now left with just two banks. There is no competition. We have the highest mortgage rates in Europe. Ulster Bank assets and loan book must not go to AIB and Bank of Ireland. The banks themselves are at fault for the fall in users of the branches.”
Across the chamber Cllr Carmel Brady (FG) spoke of the impact on rural communities: “Cootehill has lost its branch because the bank depleted the services they offer. Then they said the banks are not used. We have lost three banks in eight years. People don’t realise the importance of cash in rural communities, where connectivity is an issue. It’s needed for things like paying for taxis and other small transactions.”
Independent councillor Shane P O’Reilly said the banks knew it was the right time to make such an announcement “because they knew communities could not revolt”.
Cllr T.P. O’Reilly (FG) also expressed his disappointment at the BoI decision: “They were bailed out by the tax payers, they have a lot to answer for. This is two fingers to the people of Ireland, but it is an opportunity for the post office to take up a new role in Ireland.”
Cllr Brendan Fay (Ind) described the decision as “a long time coming”.
He said the banks are cutting services in a bid to move toward a cashless society: “The government are not going to do anything. There is no bank in West Cavan, it’s frustrating.”
Sinn Féin’s Cllr Paddy McDonald said: “The people who own the banks have not shown a bit of gratitude. A lot of people can’t use cards and can’t go online. Banks are now laughing at them. We need to upgrade our post office services to an acceptable standard to allow them to do business.”
The closures were also condemned by Cllr Aidan Fitzpatrick (FF), Cllr Winston Bennett (FG) and Cathaoirleach Sarah O’Reilly (Aontu).
Cllr O’Reilly said the council will do all they can to express their outrage at the decision.