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Politicians declare victory for ‘people power’ after AIB u-turn on withdrawing cash services

After days of outcry, the bank said it wouldn’t be withdrawing cash services from 70 branches.

Rural Independent TDs Danny Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins outside AIB HQ in Dublin today.
Rural Independent TDs Danny Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins outside AIB HQ in Dublin today.
Image: Sam Boal

AFTER UNLEASHING A flood of anger from customers and politicians, AIB announced today that it was reversing its decision to remove cash services from 70 of its branches across the country, prompting a slew of TDs to declare a victory for people power.

The swift u-turn came following an intercession from Taoiseach Michéal Martin and as three TDs from the Rural Independent Group – Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae – were in the bank’s Dublin city centre headquarters, demanding a meeting with its CEO Colin Hunt.

The three rural representatives had pledged to stay in the plush Molesworth Street offices until they had secured a meeting with senior management. They were therefore in prime position to declare victory to the media waiting outside when the AIB announcement came through.

“Democracy is a great thing and people’s power is what won the battle here. We had a movement here that wasn’t seen since Irish Water and it was going to be a severe movement,” Collins said outside AIB’s head office.

The three TDs were told Hunt wasn’t unavailable but said they were willing to wait all day long and over the weekend if it was necessary. In the end it wasn’t required as the AIB roll-back was confirmed at around midday.

Collins added that the rural independents will be keeping a “very close eye” on AIB and other banks, claiming that finance minister Paschal Donohoe and public expenditure minister Michael McGrath are “afraid” to do so.

“If they [Donohoe and McGrath] say they knew nothing about this and they owning a 63.5% stake in the bank, there’s something wrong somewhere,” the Cork South-West TD said.

Other opposition parties also made hay out of the fact that the State is the majority shareholder in AIB and have queried why the finance minister wasn’t imploring the bank to keep the services open.

However, minister Donohoe was quick out of the blocks to welcome AIB’s decision not to proceed with the withdrawal of cash services from dozens of branches.

“I note the significant public reaction to AIB’s announcement earlier this week and I welcome the Bank’s decision not to proceed with the proposed changes to customer services in certain branches,” he said.

The reaction wasn’t limited to ministers, as TDs, MEPs and senators – from both government and opposition parties – quickly fired off statements welcoming AIB’s backtrack.

“People power” was the phrase of the day as politicians from Sinn Féin and Aontú echoed Collins’ analysis of the u-turn.

“I want to commend communities who stood their ground and refused to allow corporate interests to hollow out the services upon which they rely. People power has won out,” said Sinn Féin’s expenditure spokesperson Mairéad Farrell.

“The Government have evidently been caught on the hop and need to explain why this was the case. Customers need to know exactly how this debacle came about and need reassurance that it will not happen again,” Farrell said.

The Galway West TD added that minister Donohoe and senior AIB figures must still appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee to answer questions about the saga.

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín said the “crisis” in banking will continue unless there is the provision of proper competition in the sector.

“There is a disastrous lack of competition within the banking market. It is the root cause of the continuing dysfunction in banking throughout the state.

“It has not happened by accident, FG (Fine Gael) created what they called a Pillar Banking System after the crash. FG’s plan was for the vast majority of the market to be serviced by only two banks, AIB and Banking of Ireland. Their plan is coming to pass with disastrous consequences,” Tóibín said.

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Céimin Burke

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