The Financial Services Union (FSU) has described the proposed closure of Bank of Ireland branches as a punishment of communities for adhering to pandemic guidelines.
The union’s general secretary, John O’Connell, called on the bank to defer any closures until the end of 2022 and for a review of the impact such closures would have on the communities in which they are located.
There should be a debate rather than action by the bank “over our head”, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Mr O’Connell said the FSU would protect the jobs and dignity of the staff involved and would campaign against the closures. People needed to be treated with respect and the bank’s track record in that regard was not good, he said.
On the same programme, Séamus Boland of Rural Link said he was "extremely disappointed" by news of the closures. "We said it would happen. This is another blow to rural communities, even though I know some of the branches are in urban areas."
Many post offices were located in shops and would not be equipped for dealing with some problems, he warned.
Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty described the bank’s decision as “the wrong decision at the wrong time”. It was “tone deaf” and there should have been proper public discussion.
Mr Doherty called for a forum on the future of banking in Ireland. Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne programme, he said Bank of Ireland was using statistics from the pandemic as an excuse for its decision, at a time when people had been asked not to travel.
On the same programme Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, who runs a post office, said the bank’s decision was “terrifying” and the post office network was already in crisis. He said he was on his knees, urging people to support local businesses, shops, bank branches and post offices.
“If it’s not being used it will be shut down,” he warned. “If we want to keep jobs locally, the only way we can do that is to support local, that will help sustain a vital part of the economy.”
Credit union boss Kevin Johnson said the announcement would mean difficulties, especially for older customers.
“While there is undoubtedly a move towards a more digital offering in the financial services sector, there is still a significant cohort of people who are not ready to make that change,” said Mr Johnson, who is chief executive of the Credit Union Development Association.
“ The migration of banks to self-service branches has been a difficult transition for many people – particularly older customers, many of whom still favour face-to-face interaction. Today has taken this migration one step further, with people in the affected locations no longer being given even the self-service option.”