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Opinion: 'I am a Bank of Ireland customer, one who automatically clicked 'Gaeilge''

If someone doesn’t want our business, that’s fine. But don’t tell us we don’t deserve to be accommodated, writes Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh.

Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh

“PLEASE SELECT A language”, implores the ATM on Rue du Marché aux Herbes in Brussels, and I dutifully select the Union Jack from the list on offer and withdraw my few Euros for a last beer and a late night kebab.

In a city where the language of communication is French, it’s nice to be able to choose from five, or even six languages on an ATM – lessening the risk that my limited French or non-existent Flemish might lead me to struggle with the interface.

I’ve had several, strong “Geuze Boons” and the last thing I need is to be ordering statements or paying bills in a language I don’t understand.

We don’t have that option anymore

Back at home, we don’t have that option. At least, not anymore we don’t. The Bank of Ireland transactions that used to be carried out in Irish will revert, no doubt, to English. A language everyone speaks, even if a minority prefer to use another.

I am a Bank of Ireland customer, one who automatically clicked “Gaeilge” when presented with the option, so I’m naturally disappointed at the bank’s decision to withdraw the service. But I’m not surprised. We’re only 1%.

The bank provided no figures beyond that, no total transactions or transaction value, and crucially no indication as to how many transactions would make Irish a language worth including. The cost argument doesn’t add up either, as a translation and localisation firm was quick to offer to do the work for free. The bank just decided they didn’t want to accommodate us any longer.

Galling thing was the way we were told we didn’t deserve it

That’s their right, just as it’s ours to vote with our feet. The galling thing was the way we were told we didn’t deserve it. When criticised for their decision, the bank’s customer care teams displayed a unified front. “Only one per cent of all transactions are carried out in Irish, Peter”, they told me, changing only the name of the recipient on hundreds of messages of response.

We don’t know how many people that 1% of transactions covers, as Bank of Ireland won’t tell us. There were 1,748,988 ATM transactions in Ireland last December, of which Bank of Ireland would conservatively claim a 35% share, given that they told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that they had 1.6 million customers.

So let’s call it 600,000 transactions for Bank of Ireland that one month, give or take 12,145. 1 per cent of that is a piddling 6,000 transactions per month, or 72,000 transactions per year. Not enough, we’re told, for a translation service they have been offered for free.

We may be 1% but we’re alive and kicking

How often have Bank of Ireland’s marketing department spent thousands on a marketing campaign that led to less than 1% in net growth? They won’t tell us. How many customers did they lose when they decided to withdraw most of their over-the-counter services? You guessed it, we don’t know.

How many transactions, I often wonder, are carried out by blind customers using the headphone jack? It’s a superb service, one which I would hate to see cut, but I often wonder if it’s used more often than Irish. If it only has a small percentage of users, surely it can’t be viable, right?

I speak Irish every day of my life. I spent Electric Picnic in a crowd of hundreds who speak Irish every single day of their lives. Once a month, I go drinking at a Pop Up Gaeltacht with hundreds of other Gaeilgeoirí of varying levels of ability. It doesn’t matter that the first few comments beneath this article will call Irish a “dead-language” – it very obviously isn’t.

We may be only 1% of Bank of Ireland’s transactions, and about to become fewer as a result of their decision, but we’re very much alive and kicking. If someone doesn’t want our business, that’s fine. But don’t tell us we don’t deserve to be accommodated. In Brussels, I don’t mind choosing English. In Dublin, where I speak Irish all the time, it shouldn’t be the same.

Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh is the co-founder of Pop Up Gaeltacht and a broadcaster and journalist with Raidió na Life. The next Pop Up Gaeltacht is in the Bernard Shaw on September 28 at 8pm. He tweets (bilingually) at @thekavofficial.

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Peadar Ó Caomhánaigh

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