Law to block sale of Ulster Bank assets to vulture funds considered

Oireachtas committee critical of lack of engagement from bank amid closure reports

Ulster Bank’s UK parent, NatWest, is actively considering winding down its Irish division.

Ulster Bank’s UK parent, NatWest, is actively considering winding down its Irish division.

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An Oireachtas committee is to give serious consideration to recommending the “urgent introduction” of legislation to require that any sale of Ulster Bank assets is to another pillar bank, in the event the lender continues to decline invitations to engage with the committee.

The Irish Times first reported in September that Ulster Bank’s UK parent, NatWest, is actively considering winding down the division as the impact of Covid-19 has served to further depress Ulster Bank’s profit returns.

Debate

On Tuesday, the Oireachtas joint committee on finance, public expenditure and reform published an interim report relating to Ulster Bank indicating its concern on the matter and with a view to seeking a Dáil debate in the near future.

An announcement in relation to the bank’s Irish future is expected as early as Friday.

The Financial Services Union (FSU) outlined concerns to the committee in December regarding the impact of a withdrawal on staff, customers and competition in the market to the committee. The issue also arose during a meeting with the Central Bank a week later.

In its report, the committee said it “shares the concerns expressed” and, while stressing that it did not wish to discuss commercially sensitive matters, it said it had invited representatives of Ulster Bank on multiple occasions to meet with it.

It also said it had sought information on the timeline for the strategic review and the terms of reference but that “no such information has been forthcoming”.

“Ulster Bank and NatWest have declined all invitations to meet with the committee to date, citing commercial sensitivities and indicating that as the review is still ongoing and no decisions have been made, they were not in a position to meet with the committee,” it said.

“The joint committee also understands that the FSU has growing concerns at the continuing lack of engagement on the part of NatWest and Ulster Bank and the increased uncertainty for staff at the lack of clarity and information that has been provided.

Decisions

“The committee views this lack of engagement with staff and staff interests as particularly insensitive.”

It said it was “firmly of the opinion that no final decisions should be made until such time as representatives of Ulster Bank and NatWest meet with the committee to discuss concerns in relation to matters such as the possible sale of loan books to so-called vulture funds and other consumer protection issues”.

“In the event that there is not timely and meaningful engagement with the committee, it is of the opinion that it will have to give serious consideration to recommending the urgent introduction of legislation to require that any sale of Ulster Bank assets is to another pillar bank or banks, notwithstanding the competition issues that might arise as a result,” the report added.

Ulster Bank has been contacted for comment.

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