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'Ripping commercial heart from Provincial Ireland': Political opprobrium descends on BOI closures

Unions have also asked the bank to halt the decision.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THERE HAS HAS been swift political criticism of the decision to close over 100 Bank of Ireland branches across the island of Ireland. 

The company announced this morning that it is planning to shut 88 branches in the Republic and 15 in Northern Ireland, with the closures beginning from September.

The move comes as its business has “reached a tipping point between online and offline banking”, Bank of Ireland said.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Group CEO Francesca McDonagh said that customers had said “loudly and clearly” they wanted more digital and fewer branches.

Bank of Ireland also said a new partnership with An Post will offer customers access to a range of banking services at over 900 locations. This will include withdrawing cash and making cash and cheque lodgements. 

The bank’s decision has been criticised by a number of politicians, with Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty TD saying that bank users are effectively being punished “for following public health regulations”. 

“This morning’s announcement by Bank of Ireland that it is to close over a third of its branches in the south and more than half of its branches in the north from September is the wrong decision at the worst possible time,” he said. 

Bank of Ireland has attempted to justify this announcement based on a fall in branch visits over the past twelve months. This is hardly surprising given the entire population has had its movements significantly restricted in response to a public health emergency.

“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.

“This knee-jerk reaction will leave vulnerable customers without access to essential services,” Doherty added. 

Labour TD Seán Sherlock said the bank’s move was “akin to ripping the commercial heart out of Provincial Ireland.”

“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 on job losses throughout the entire rural economy,” he said. 

The cynical attempt of the bank to use Covid as cover for these closures is an insult to staff and local communities. Seeing their workers as merely numbers does not take into account what’s happening in local branches throughout the country where bank staff play a fundamental role in our rural economy.

Sherlock also called on Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to “intervene and put a stay on these proposed closures”. 

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae also criticised the decision and noted that three of Kerry’s nine Bank of Ireland branches would be closing. 

Healy-Rae said the decision “simply did not add up” and he took issue with comments made by McDonagh who said bank customers were seeking to move online. 

“I’m not too sure what customers Ms McDonagh was listening to but no customer of the branches in Killorglin or Castleisland would ever have uttered the words “loudly and clearly” as another vital service for people living in rural towns is taken away from them, under the pretence that it is a good move for them,” he said. 

“I know that post offices will welcome the fact that Bank of Ireland will enter into a working arrangement for customers in rural areas but it won’t make up for the lost jobs in that sector and it won’t be enough to reopen post offices that have been closed,” he added. 

Another Independent deputy, Michael Fitzmaurice TD, said the closures were “yet another attack on rural Ireland”

“This is yet another effort to whittle down the services available to people in rural
Ireland,” he said. 

To announce these closures in the midst of a lockdown heaps further anxiety on the most vulnerable in our society who prefer interacting with a human to complete their transactions rather than a machine.

Unions have also been expressing concern about the closures, with Siptu saying that the bank should halt its plans.

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“This has come as a complete bolt out of the blue and at a time when staff have been working tirelessly during the Covid-19 crisis to ensure the network is operational and kept open for customers. We are calling on the bank to halt any plans to close these branches, particularly while staff and customers are trying to cope during the pandemic,” Siptu’s Peadar Nolan said.

“We are seeking an immediate meeting with management to discuss this decision and will be seeking alternatives to the plan. We also want the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, to intervene and protect the interests of staff and customers.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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