Bank closures show need for forum on banking

Labour representative Liam van der Spek says now is the time the Central Bank “stops being commentators in ivory towers” and for them to take on “responsibility” for setting out a vision for an optimum Irish banking model.

Local Labour representative Liam van der Spek has said that, with Ulster Bank and now KBC planning to withdraw from the Irish market, and Bank of Ireland closing so many branches, there is a need for a Forum on Banking to be established.

Calling for the Central Bank and government to act, Mr van der Spek said weeks after Ulster Bank is to announced plans to “fold up its tent in Ireland, and Bank of Ireland closing so many branches” the proposed loss of KBC bank should “finally prompt” the Minister for Finance to establish a formal Forum on Banking.

Aimed at developing a strategic vision for a sector that now looks set to comprise a mere three retail banks, he said: “Such a Forum should also examine what enhanced role Credit Unions can also play in supporting the banking needs of our local communities and businesses. The Labour Party has previously proposed setting up a new Community Bank based on the German Sparkassen model that would in partnership with the credit union movement could look at providing business banking services.

“KBC plans to sell off their performing loans to Bank of Ireland will serve strengthen the growing dominance of the Bank of Ireland and AIB duopoly in the Irish market.”

For so many towns, villages and communities, credit unions and post offices will soon be the only option for financial services, says Mr van der Spek. Physical bank branches he claimed have been “intrinsic” to the commercial and social life of main street Ireland, but that it seems this is a factor of “limited interest” to the Central Bank of Ireland as the regulator. “Experience tells us that once a local bank branch is gone it will never return.

“From a competition and consumer point of view and in a scenario where mortgage interest rates are the second highest in the Eurozone the Irish banking sector requires urgent policy attention from the government. This decision represents bad news for KBC’s customers and for ordinary people everywhere. It will make an extremely difficult mortgages market even more impossible, particularly for those starting out,” said Mr van der Spek.

He added that it is now time the Central Bank “stops being commentators in ivory towers” and for them to take on “responsibility” for setting out a vision for an optimum Irish banking model.

“This has been a traumatic two months for bank staff in Ireland with the withdrawal of Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland’s series of branch closures. It is important that staff and their union are treated with respect in KBC’s negotiations with Bank of Ireland and that jobs are retained and terms and conditions are transferred fully intact.

“As these European banks continue to make the decision to leave, it is now time to have a national conversation – take stock of where we are and move forward putting people first.”

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