Monday’s announcement from Bank of Ireland that it is to close 103 branches comes as a slap in the face to farmers and rural communities who rely on them for banking services, IFA president Tim Cullinan has said.

The IFA estimates that over 80% of the branches identified for closure are in rural locations.

“The withdrawal of this vital service will discommode those without internet access and people whose preference is to do their banking in person,” Cullinan said.

“Worryingly, the branch closure programme disproportionately targets rural Ireland. IFA will be seeking an urgent meeting with senior bank management to raise the unfair targeting.”

Hammer blow

The bank is set to close 88 of its branches from September, reducing its network by one-third. It temporarily closed 101 branches in March, almost 40% of its locations, due to COVID-19.

Similar to AIB and Ulster Bank, the bank has signed a deal with An Post which will allow personal and business customers to use their local post office for certain services, including withdrawals and lodgements.

IFA farm business chair Rose Mary McDonagh highlights that research from the UK has shown that the closure of just one branch reduces lending to the local community by some 64%.

McDonagh branded Monday’s announcement as another hammer blow to the provision of banking services in Ireland following the recent confirmation that Ulster Bank plans to exit the market.

Digital divide

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has said that the decision will exacerbate growing detachment of banks from their customers in rural Ireland.

“The decision will be a disaster for many bank customers who do not have access to quality broadband. The digital divide is going to get worse before it gets better and yet again rural Ireland is being let down.”

Kelleher warns that farmers are facing increasingly restrictive decisions regarding credit, particularly in the cattle, sheep, and tillage sectors.

“The computer in Dublin is programmed to say dairy expansion is good, no matter how grandiose, and that everything else is bad.

“Hence we see perfectly sound propositions for stocking loans, or smaller building projects being turned down or watered down even though the farmers in question have rock solid collateral and a long track record.”

ICSA has called on Bank of Ireland to reconsider their decision, which comes on top of the closing of Ulster Bank in Ireland.

“The answer to all banking problems is not press one for close down, press two for sell-off,” Kelleher concluded.

Rural abandonment

Meanwhile, ICMSA Pat McCormack has said that the decision of Bank of Ireland to implement a programme of mass closure of branches will have the net effect of penalising rural areas and the elderly.

“The bank’s decision is effectively an announcement that it is abandoning physical person-to-person business in large areas of the State and the reality is that rural towns will be disproportionately hit,” McCormack said.

“They want our money but do not want to provide the service or actually interact with us.”

The ICMSA president has called on farmers and rural dwellers to support financial institutions such as post offices and credit unions that show a commitment to servicing their areas.

Lost jobs

Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy Rae has condemned the decision to close three of the nine Bank of Ireland branches in Kerry which include Castleisland, Killorglin and the Munster Technological University branch in Tralee.

“I know that post offices will welcome the working arrangement with Bank of Ireland for customers in rural areas but it won’t make up for the lost jobs in that sector and it won’t be enough to reopen post offices that have been closed.”

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Bank of Ireland to close 103 branches