Bank of Ireland branch closures would be ‘totally outrageous’

Financial Services Union critical of lender as it confirms review of operations underway

Bank of Ireland is currently engaged in a review of its operations.

Bank of Ireland is currently engaged in a review of its operations.

 

Any move by Bank of Ireland to close branches would be “totally outrageous” and a “slap in the face” for staff, customers, and the Government, the Financial Services Union (FSU) has said.

Bank of Ireland is currently engaged in a review of its operations and there have been suggestions in recent days the process could lead to the closure of some of the bank’s branch network in the Republic.

The review coincides with fears that Ulster Bank is set to wind down its operations here. Its parent is expected to announce on Friday whether or not it intends to remain in the market.

Operations

Bank of Ireland is already preparing to significantly scale back its operations in Northern Ireland as a result of a strategic review, according to sources. They said the lender is planning to close a number of its 28 branches north of the Border.

In a statement on Tuesday in response to the latest comments from the FSU, a spokesman for the bank confirmed: “Our operations are subject to ongoing review. We will provide an update on all aspects of our business at our annual results on March 1st.”

Bank of Ireland, which has the largest branch network in the country, temporarily closed 101 branches in March – almost 40 per cent of its locations – amid the ongoing spread of Covid-19.

In a statement on Tuesday, the FSU said the pandemic could not be used “as cover” to close branches. It called on the Central Bank to issue a “strong statement” in support of the branch network and against any possible branch closures from any bank.

FSU general secretary John O’Connell said: “The idea that Bank of Ireland would announce branch closures during a pandemic shows a complete disregard for staff, bank customers and Government policy.

“I spoke with the bank last week looking for a timetable to reopen branches that are only partially open at the moment. The bank gave no indication at that meeting that branch closures in the Republic was a possibility.

“The bank cannot act in bad faith and withhold information from staff and customers. Taking advantage of the pandemic to close branches flies in the face of Government policy of sustaining business in communities and the SME sector. Punishing communities for adhering to Government regulations is totally outrageous.”

Sentiments

Mr O’Connell added that the union could resort to industrial action if necessary. “The FSU has written agreements with the bank on the branch network, and we expect the bank to honour them,” he said.

“If not, we will have no choice but to utilise all the industrial relation mechanisms of the State.

“The Minister for Finance, as a significant shareholder, and the Central Bank governor need to urgently intervene and make it clear that all branch closures should be off the table for at least the next two years.

“The UK regulator recently issued a direct call to banks in the UK that they should not close branches now as it will affect the most vulnerable in society more than anyone else.

“Using Covid-19 as cover to close branches shows an absolute lack of understanding of what people are going through from the bank and shows zero empathy for staff, customers and local communities across this country.”

The sentiments were echoed by Labour Party finance spokesman Ged Nash who said the move would be a “hammer blow to staff, loyal customers and the local communities who rely on these services”.