“Government must save Clones & Castleblayney Bank of Ireland branches”
Sinn Féin online Public Meeting hears call for action
The government must use its substantial stake in the Bank of Ireland to prevent the closures of local branches in Clones and Castleblayney.
That was the clear message delivered at a public meeting, held online due to Covid-19 restrictions, organised by local Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, last Friday evening. The meeting, attended by local businesses and members of the community in both towns, heard from Deputy Carthy that when local towns lose banking services it results in lower levels of investment and therefore has a negative impact on the wider economy in the area. The meeting also heard from local Sinn Féin representations, Cllr. Pat Treanor from Clones and Paul Gibbons of Castleblayney who is the Vice-chair of Co. Monaghan Sinn Féin.
At the outset of the meeting Deputy Carthy explained that there are 103 branches facing closure next September across the island. He said that the decision was a particular blow to Co. Monaghan as, alongside the proposed closures of the Clones and Castleblayney branches, the bank also intended to shut neighbouring branches at Cootehill in County Cavan, Keady and Crossmaglen in County Armagh and Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh.
He told the meeting that the decision was taken by Bank of Ireland without consultation and in the midst of a Pandemic. The decision was taken on footfall over the past 12 months, “a cynical move by the Bank as a cost-cutting exercise without any regard for rural communities” he said.
Deputy Carthy continued: “The Bank have said this move is a result of the reduced customer attendance at the branches but have failed to acknowledge that due to lockdowns, many older and vulnerable people cocooning have limited their visits to banks while the enforced closure of businesses would also account for much of the reduction in footfall”.
He described the bank’s new partnership with An Post as inadequate as post offices will only be able to offer ‘over the counter cash and cheque lodgements and cash withdrawals.’
He said: “At the minute customers can apply for products and get financial advice as well as lodge and withdraw cash/cheques. Most of these services will not be available through the post office. It has been particularly galling to hear local government representatives repeat the bank’s propoganda that this will replace the loss of the bank branches.
Deputy Carthy reminded those in attendance that Bank of Ireland made over €1 billion profit in the year before the Pandemic. “So this is no more than a cost-cutting exercise” he said.
“They were bailed out to the tune of €4.7 billion and they will not have to pay Corporate tax for a large number of years because they are shielding future and current profits with losses incurred during the financial crisis.
“Fianna Fáil & Fine Gael reps were happy to facilitate the bank with billions of euro and then facilitate the bank in avoiding their tax obligations – but when it comes to local communities needing a service, they say they cannot intervene” he stated.
Impact on Clones and Castleblayney
Deputy Carthy said that Clones and Castleblayney were two towns that had suffered from economic neglect and the impact of partition for generations. Local communities have tried hard in recent years to rebuild and they, alongside local businesses, have done tremendous work. But the removal of services knocks them back.
“The loss of the Bank of Ireland branch in these areas will be a huge blow not only to those who reside in the towns but also to the outlying surrounding areas.
“Those worst affected will be older people and those with special needs to require face-to-face services. The broadband in many rural areas in Monaghan means that online banking often doesn’t work.
“This closure, coupled with the previous removal of other public services from our county, will lead to increased loneliness and social isolation. Banks are part of our local communities and their removal has a further community impact”.
Referencing the local people who work in the branches, Deputy Carthy said that they were treated disgracefully. “These workers are part of the community” he said, “they have local connections and local understanding. Branch networks are like footprints in a community, it is traditional, and you will find that families down the years will be loyal to a particular bank. The staff are part of that footprint.
“The staff were given the news 15 minutes before it was announced to the public in some branches. That is nothing short of obscene.
“We in Sinn Féin are in touch with the Financial Services Union who have described the workers as ‘shell-shocked’. There has been a major change in the banking landscape across Ireland lately with the Ulster Bank pulling out and now these closures. Thousands of workers are involved.
“Staff in other branches are naturally apprehensive that they could be next”.
Deputy Carthy continued: “The government have a responsibility. There has always been ‘light touch regulation’ which essentially means the banks can do whatever they want and now that we have a significant stake in these banks, nothing has changed.
“The Government has a responsibility to plan the Irish economy and deliver balanced regional development and these closures run contrary to that.
“If their policies and Programme for Government and what they say they are doing are matched by their actions, then they wouldn’t be allowing this to happen the way it is happening.
“Government parties claim that they are committed to delivering balanced regional development. That requires local economies and regional economies across the country. That, in turn, requires financial infrastructure like banks and post offices. State services and financial services need to be in all or most of these areas.
“The problem is that if you lose it, then it’s harder to get it back, so the task must be – don’t lose it in the first place.
“There is political consensus that the PTSB should buy the Ulster Bank loans and PTSB have gone further saying they will buy some local Ulster Bank branches.
“They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think they were viable. Ulster Bank are closing around 80 branches but we never bailed them out at any stage so we have little leverage there.
“But, we DO have leverage of the 14% stake-holding with the Bank of Ireland. And, government must use it.
Businesses & Investment
“Local Businesses need a local branch for personal servicing of their account” Carthy said.
“Start-ups especially always need support from their local branch rather than the anonymity of large branches. In a rural setting they can depend on the personal relationship with the bank and its manager.
“Local banking services are essential infrastructure for any local economy and any loss of a bank, especially the very last one, is detrimental to the local economy. Research shows that there is a 2/3 credit growth reduction (credit growth is money lent to businesses) if a bank leaves an area”.
Call to action
Deputy Carthy outlined how British bank financial regulators have stated that there should be no bank closures during the pandemic.
This should be the position in Ireland also. “In fact closures shouldn’t even be contemplated until the end of 2022 and pending a wholescale review of banking services in Ireland”, he said.
“The Minister of Finance Paschal Donohue holds a 14% shareholding in the Bank of Ireland on behalf of the Irish people. In terms of what we want to happen now, Sinn Féin are calling for activism from individuals and organisations to force the government to use this stake in the public interest”.
Sinn Féin are asking people:
- To email the Minister (firstname.lastname@example.org) calling on him to use his influence to delay or secure a moratorium on these closures.
- To sign the petition in opposition to these closures at www.my.uplift.ie/petitions/keep-our-bank-branch-open.
- To send emails to local government supporting TDs asking them to support their local branch
- Contact Bank of Ireland directly explaining the importance of our local bank branches.
Deputy Carthy concluded by reminding those gathered that this is a campaign that can be won. “This isn’t just a case of lonely Monaghan towns fighting for the survival of their local banks against the big boys”, he said “we are part of a wider campaign from 103 towns in every part of Ireland facing the same problem. If we can replicate resistance in each of these areas we stand a better chance of succeeding. This is a David & Golaith fight but if we all join together, we stand a chance of saving these important centres in our local towns” he concluded.
Cllr. Pat Treanor
In his remarks to the meeting local Sinn Féin Councillor, Pat Treanor, said that this announcement was the last thing Clones needed.
He told the meeting:
“The businesses and community in the Clones area are particularly annoyed and disappointed by this closure because 6 years ago, when we lost the Ulster Bank branch, Bank of Ireland promised that they were here to stay. The announcement that they are now withdrawing another service from Clones has let people down badly.
“Speaking to business people this week, I know that many of them need a basic service for depositing their weekly cash takings in a safe and secure place. The town needs the ATM facility so that people have access to cash to shop in Clones.
“Many older people are scared that they won’t have access to their savings. They will miss the chats with the bank staff, who they trusted, about wills, or their farms, or their savings.
“As a local councillor, I’ve also listened to the concerns about this iconic prominent building in the centre of our town. No one wants to see another vacant property, especially when we’re having some success at dealing with dereliction.
“We must be given time to determine a useful alternative for this bank building, in the event of Bank of Ireland refusing to reverse their decision” Cllr. Treanor concluded.
Paul Gibbons from Castleblayney, who is the vice-chair of Co. Monaghan Sinn Féin, recorded to the meeting the many voices of concern which he had heard from the business and wider community since the news of the imminent closure of the Castleblayney branch of the Bank of Ireland.
He said: “For all of us in Castleblayney news of the imminent closure of our Bank of Ireland branch was not a great surprise. Opening hours and services have been reducing in the last few years and this along with the COVIUD pandemic has, of course, impacted hugely on footfall.
“Some people have been reassured by the continuing presence in Blayney of Allied Irish Bank in a key location in the town. There is however also a real fear that the business rationale that influenced the Bank of Ireland decision may also be in the mind of Allied Irish executives and initiate a similar outcome in relation to branch closures. I have no doubt Allied Irish are watching the response from communities, businesses and politicians to the Bank of Ireland announcements and this may influence their actions. This highlights the importance of providing an effective campaign in opposition to these closures.
“In the last few years in Castleblayney we have lost our Ulster bank branch on the Dublin road, and now have received news of the loss of the Bank of Ireland branch. If Allied Irish were to also close their Blayney branch the associated loss of banking services and 24/7 ATM access on our Main Street would be devastating.
“I must commend our Castleblayney Credit Union which has provided a wide range of financial services, a safe and secure place for savings and an affordable source of credit all with a member owned, not for profit ethos and is an integral part of our community. The Credit Union movement nationally however is not in a position currently to provide the full range of financial services to be a full service banking option.”
Mr. Gibbons continued: “The people who will be most impacted by this decision are people with literacy problems, the elderly, citizens with no internet access and with the ongoing lack of broadband in many parts of the wider Castleblayney area this represents a sizeable cohort of our community. For this reason the announced closure is an indefensible decision at any time but in the midst of a pandemic the decision is truly shameful and corporate cynicism at its worst.
“The rise of online banking is unstoppable and for many people it is their preferred way of interacting with their bank. However, this is not an option for everybody and it is vital that the rights of these people are articulated and defended. The future of banking in the short to medium term should be a blended solution with a strong online presence complimented by a branch network.
“The Irish people were there for Bank of Ireland when they needed help in the economic crash. We are asking that the Bank of Ireland repay some of that support and loyalty by being there for the businesses and community in Castleblayney and the other 102 communities where they have announced branch closures” he concluded.
Other elected representatives in attendance included the Cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Cllr. Colm Carthy, and his Castleblayney/Carrickmacross MD colleague, Cllr. Noel Keelan. Cllr. Cathy Bennett from the Monaghan Municipal District was also in attendance. All gave their absolute commitment to support the campaign to retain full local bank services across County Monaghan.
Following a question and answer session with members of the public, the meeting concluded with agreement that all those in attendance would encourage others to participate in this important campaign.