POLITICIANS are schedueled to meet with Bank of Ireland officials in coming days in an effort to avert planned closures of a number of Bank of Ireland branches including the facilities in Crossmaglen and Downpatrick.
The SDLP have launched a petition against the closurers and are asking members of the public to register their objections.
Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady has said the announcement that Bank of Ireland will close 103 branches across the island is a huge blow to the economy and to workers and families and will have a particular impact in rural areas.
The Newry and Armagh MP said:
"This announcement by Bank of Ireland is a huge blow to our local economy. My thoughts first and foremost are with the workers impacted and their families. It is always difficult to get such news but this is a very challenging time in the middle of a pandemic.
"This news will also be concerning for Bank of Ireland customers, over 200,000 across the north.
"These closures will mean that Keady and Crossmaglen ill be left with no physical banking facilities.
"Not everyone has access to online banking and in rural areas where there are serious issues with broadband reliability this becomes a real problem.
"Bank of Ireland must engage fully with its workers and their representatives as this unfolds.
"All efforts must be made to redeploy workers and reskilling opportunities should be made available to support workers.
“A Sinn Féin delegation will be meeting with Bank of Ireland and the Financial Services Union to discuss these closures and their impact in full."
SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty MLA and local Councillors Pete Byrne and Thomas O’Hanlon have described the announcement by Bank of Ireland to close two local branches as a blow to rural communities.
Mr McNulty said, ‘Banks are a key service to every community and their closure is a real blow to rural communities in particular. I fully appreciate there has been a transition over recent years to where we now conduct much of our banking online, but that is no substitute for in-person banking. On many banking matters people and businesses still like and need to be able to go to their own local bank and meet bank officials face-to-face.’
‘This announcement will see the complete withdrawal of banking services from rural towns to Armagh and Newry Cities. The banks have been a fulcrum of activity in Keady and Crossmaglen for so many years so I would appeal to Bank of Ireland to look again at these proposals. They cannot and should not abandon rural account holders.’
South Armagh SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne said, ‘Small businesses in Crossmaglen and the wider South Armagh area have struggled enough this year without the added uncertainty of bank closures. Not long ago, the SDLP fought to have Crossmaglen’s town status retained but what does it say to businesses and local people when the town is stripped of such a key service.’
‘Banks have a moral and civic responsibility to citizens especially those from rural communities who suffer from isolation in terms of access to services currently. With the level of uncertainty out there due to the pandemic, decisions like this must be parked and businesses given the space to deal with the already mounting pressures they face.’
Keady SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon added, ‘This decision is a difficult day for both the communities who use these banks and indeed the staff who work within them. But I feel this decision will hit businesses and our elderly citizens the most. Businesses need access to banks, including night safe facilities. Elderly citizens tend to have less access to mobile banking, not to mention the poor broadband connectivity in this area for rural dwellers. This is a real hammer blow to our community which has now been left without any bank.’
Bank branch closure risks isolating consumers by removing access to essential services says The Consumer Council, following the news that Bank of Ireland is to close 15 local branches this year.
Scott Kennerley, Director of Financial Services at The Consumer Council, said: “Whilst many consumers have made the switch to online or mobile banking, there are still many consumers and small businesses who rely on face-to-face banking.
“We know that some consumers in Northern Ireland still prefer to use cash so the decision by Bank of Ireland to close half of its branch network will have a negative impact on consumers and their access to cash services. We will continue to engage with Bank of Ireland to understand how it is supporting consumers affected by this decision.”
Scott added: “When their branch closes, consumers can continue to visit their nearest Post Office to pay in cash and cheques, withdraw money, and check their balance. Basic banking services is something the Post Offices provides for all banks in Northern Ireland.”
Further advice and support is available on The Consumers Council’s website (www.consumercouncil.org.uk), including a branch closure factsheet, a personal banking guide, a guide to switching banks and a current account comparison table. Alternatively, consumers can contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.