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Ulster Bank tells Donohoe 'no decision' yet taken on its future amid reports it could be wound down

The Minister for Finance met with representatives from Ulster Bank today.

Image: Julien Behal Photography

Updated Oct 21st 2020, 1:24 PM

MINISTER FOR FINANCE Paschal Donohoe has been told by Ulster Bank that “no decision has yet been taken” on the future of the bank’s operations in Ireland, amid reports that its parent company is considering winding down here.

In a statement following his meeting with senior bank officials, the Department of Finance said that Donohoe told Ulster Bank that staff, customers and other stakeholders “must be informed properly about any decisions being made”. 

Donohoe said he expects staff representatives will be consulted and kept informed on developments. 

The department said: “Ulster Bank confirmed that the strategic review is ongoing and assured the Minister that no decision has yet been taken. Ulster Bank also confirmed that there is no set timetable for this review and that it is fully aware of the strategically important role that Ulster Bank plays in the provision of financial services to the Irish market.”

In a statement from parent company NatWest, a spokesperson said: “We had a constructive meeting and an important discussion today with the Minister for Finance who is a key stakeholder in the review underway. Our priority  is to continue to remain focussed on supporting our colleagues in serving our customers in these difficult times.”

Speaking to RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland ahead of the meeting, Donohoe said his first step would be to “establish exactly what is happening”.

He also said he was “very concerned” by the reports that had emerged.

“I’m aware there’s a process under way,” he said. “I need to know more than just what’s been in public reports.”

Ahead of his meeting with Ulster Bank later, the Financial Services Union said there were a number of questions that the union needs to answer when they meet Minister Donohoe. 

Its general secretary John O’Connell said: “This lack of clarity is causing huge anxiety amongst the bank’s employees and customers in the Republic of Ireland, as well as for many employees in Northern Ireland who directly support the operation of Ulster Bank in the Republic.

[Parent company] NatWest puts itself forward as being a people-focused bank. On its website, it describes itself as having a ‘purpose-led strategy’ and sets out its key ambitions, which include being ‘the best bank for everyone across the UK and Ireland’.
It says that its purpose is to ‘champion the potential of people, families, and businesses’ and highlights that it ‘must deliver’ for ‘customers, colleagues and communities throughout the UK and RoI to help to build a cleaner, fairer and more inclusive economy’. This document was published in July 2020. We want to know what has changed between then and now?

The FSU has been joined by other unions and other parties in calling for NatWest to guarantee the future of Ulster Bank in Ireland.

Ulster Bank has 2,400 staff across the country.

He did not comment, however, on reports that Ulster Bank was considering the sale of a portfolio of loans to a vulture fund. 

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty called on Ulster Bank to guarantee that it will not sell its loan book, including family mortgages, to US vulture fund Cerberus.

“It has also been reported that the US vulture fund Cerberus is planning to buy Ulster Bank’s entire €20.5 billion loan book.

For Ulster Bank to sell off its mortgage loans, and those mortgage-holders, to a vulture fund like Cerberus is totally unacceptable.

“Cerberus has no long-term interest in Ireland, and no interest whatsoever in the welfare of mortgage-holders,” he said.

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The Oireachtas Finance Committee has agreed to Doherty’s request to hold a meeting with the CEO of Ulster Bank regarding its future in the banking sector.

Earlier, Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall had called for assurances to be given on the future of Ulster Bank to provide clarity for staff and customers.

“The Minister needs to make it clear that the needs of customers and staff have to be prioritised,” she said. “The potential exit of such a big player in Irish banking would have a very negative impact. Staff and customers need to hear clear commitments from bank management as to the future.

“The Minister needs to press for assurances around the review which Natwest are currently conducting into Ulster Bank operations in the Republic of Ireland. The voices of staff and customers need to be heard in this review.

“The Minister should seek assurances that the review will take on board these views, as well as look at the potential impact of any sale on the Irish economy.”

Speaking earlier, Donohoe also said that enhanced supports would be provided for businesses through to the new year, and admitted that returning to Level 3 is the likely scenario in December.

“Our country will come through this,” he said. “We’ll support our economy through this. We will support them through this period and get the country to a better place.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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