A file picture of the Dunleer branch of Bank of Ireland. Photo: Newsfile.
Today’s shock announcement from Bank of Ireland that they are to close 88 of its branches around the Republic, including Dunleer, and another 15 in the North, has been described as an abandonment of rural Ireland and a massive blow to local communities.
However Bank of Ireland Group CEO Francesca McDonagh said that customers had said “loudly and clearly” they wanted more digital and fewer branches.
“There will be no compulsory redundancy process,” she said, adding that staff affected by the closures can work in a different branch or another part of the business. They can also opt for voluntary redundancy but there will “be no compulsory element”, she said.
“We know news like this can cause concern for some customers, and for the communities that we serve. We’re not making these changes immediately – no branches will close in the next six months.
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However, local TD and Labour’s Finance spokesperson Ged Nash has described the announcement as “a kick in the teeth for thousands of loyal customers and staff”.
Calling for a pause on bank branch closures during the pandemic, Deputy Nash said;
“I have spoken to local Dunleer residents this morning who are outraged by this decision, which I will resist. I have arranged a meeting with the bank’s CEO.
“This move has been on their agenda for some time and it was telling that the bank refused to share the terms of reference of the operational review which has provided the basis for this decision with the Financial Services Union who represents the bulk of branch staff.
“Physical bank branches are intrinsic to the commercial and social life of main street Ireland but it seems that this is a factor of limited interest to the Central Bank of Ireland as the regulator.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd said the Bank of Ireland decision feels to him “unexpected, unwarranted and deplorable”.
“The banking sector as a whole has been heavily bailed out by the taxpayers of this country and it is a disgrace that such a far reaching decision be taken by any bank during what continues to be a crippling pandemic.
“Rural Ireland will be hit hardest and in our own county the Dunleer Branch has been listed for closure, the Dunleer Branch has been part of the bedrock of social, commercial and economic life in the community for many years now.
Dunleer and Mid Louth have suffered greatly during this pandemic and clearly they need appropriate banking supports considering rural isolation and poorer quality broadband. Farmers, rural businesses and the elderly will all be significantly affected by this decision.
I will be calling on Bank of Ireland to defer any official closing of branches until such time that our country is in recovery mode. I will also be liaising with the Minister for Finance to reverse this decision.
“Bank of Ireland has been in business since 1783, and we have always adapted and evolved as our customer needs and preferences change. We are committed to Louth and these changes will allow us invest in our other branches in the county as well as digital services. We will also continue to work with community groups through initiatives such as Begin Together, a €4 million investment programme providing funding for community-focused initiatives across the island of Ireland.”
Last year Bank of Ireland launched a new mobile app with 50% more functionality, and Apple and Google Pay. Customers can open a current account online in six minutes and can complete the mortgage process entirely online from application to receiving the funds.
Along with today’s closure announcement Bank of Ireland also announced a new partnership with An Post providing banking services locally. They point out that Dunleer has a post office and there are 23 more in county Louth.
An Post has welcomed the new arrangement with Bank of Ireland that the bank’s customers will now be able to use An Post’s extensive national network for their regular banking services.
Debbie Byrne, Managing Director of An Post Retail today said the new partnership will offer personal and SME withdrawal and lodgement services to Bank of Ireland customers across the An Post network of 940 post offices nationwide.
“This further advances our mission to provide community banking on the doorstep for the customers and communities we serve. We are ambitious to extend the range of services available through post office channels and keen to explore new opportunities for customers”, she said.
This new partnership with Bank of Ireland is in line with An Post’s strategy to become a leading provider of community financial services for personal customers and SMEs.
Local Sinn Féin Councillor Pearse McGeough described the Bank of Ireland’s decision to close their branch in Dunleer as ‘a slap in the face to its customers in the area’.
Cllr McGeough pointed out that “Dunleer is progressive community with a strong industry base with a number of very successful community led initiatives that have worked hard to improve the quality of life for citizens and the loss of the Bank of Ireland branch in the area is a huge blow not only to those who reside in the village itself but also to the outlying surrounding areas.”
“I am very concerned at this particular closure because it is the older people who are once again going to suffer. This pandemic has increased anxiety among our citizens and has highlighted the inequality in our society as businesses have been forced to go online while those who are not ‘tech savvy’ or ‘digitally minded’ have been left behind to fend for themselves.
“This is yet another example where big banks ‘assume’ that everyone has a computer, knows how to use a computer, has a sufficient level of literary or has adequate broadband in this rural area. This is a slap in the face for all those customers from the area that have been loyal for probably most of their lives and to make the decision in the middle of a Pandemic when people are already feeling isolated is unforgivable.”
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