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ATM blackspots: Why the Government wants to ensure nobody has to travel more than 10km for cash

Cash is here to stay, says Minister for Finance, as Government seeks to ensure people can continue to access cash

Tommy Joyce removed the ATM in his shop last year when he was told by the machine’s operator that delivering money to Recess, a village in rural Connemara, Co Galway, was too expensive.

“They said the only way we could get it to work would be if I could load it with cash myself, but there is not enough cash around now,” says Joyce.

About 80 per cent of the transactions in his grocery shop are conducted electronically, so the cash coming in was not sufficient to feed the ATM.

The machine was in the shop for about a year before the decision was made to remove it.


“It was quite busy, especially in the summer, with the tourists. I was delighted to have it because it was bringing a lot of customers in. The locals loved it as well, preferred it to the banks,” he says.

Joyce’s shop is in the heart of Connemara, alongside a filling station and a post office. Now that the ATM is gone, people can still get cash in the post office, but it is less private, and takes longer, says Joyce. The nearest ATMs now are in Clifden or Roundstone, both of which, he says, are about 12 miles (19.3km) away.

Having the ATM in his shop earned him about €10 a month, Joyce says, “but it brought people into the shop and they would buy something, a bar of chocolate, or a paper”.

“There’s a good margin on a bar of chocolate. It’s like selling Lottery tickets. There’s not much in it but they might buy a bottle of 7up as well,” Joyce says.

This week Minister for Finance Michael McGrath secured approval from the Cabinet for a new law that will seek to maintain current levels of ATM availability in the State, both in terms of distance to a nearest ATM, and number of ATMs per capita in a particular region.

The new law forms part of the Government’s plan to make sure people can continue not just to have access to cash but also that “essential goods and services” will be available to people using cash.

Without such Government action, “we will see less and less availability of cash around the country and I think that would definitely result in many people being excluded from day-to-day life, the normal functions of society,” McGrath told reporters on Tuesday. “Cash is here to stay.”

“I think that is a great idea,” says Joyce of the Government’s plan.

“I think cash is very important for the whole community. If you want a bit of work done on your garden and you don’t have cash, how are you going to be able to do it, to give them the €50 or whatever?”

Publican Gerry Walsh says the ATM in the Quay West bar and restaurant he and chef Paul Gallagher opened in 2022 in the Quay village, outside Ballina, Co Mayo, is there more as a community service than a source of profit.

“Though people who come in to get some cash might stop and have a pint of Guinness and a half one, so I do get something out of it,” Walsh says.

He pays Euronet €250 a month for the machine, which he stocks with cash from his business, thereby saving on fees the banks would charge for lodging cash. The machine is popular with local people, he says, including people who prefer to withdraw cash inside a premises rather than on the streets of Ballina.

There are about 4,200 ATMs in the State, of which approximately 1,400 are provided by banks and the rest by independent operators, McGrath said. Even in the worst serviced region, the west, almost 97 per cent of the population is within 10km of an ATM.

However, the use of cash and ATMs is in decline, driven by technology, banks and businesses seeking to reduce their overheads, and, in more recent times, the pandemic.

But the Government plans to ensure that the continuing use of cash in the economy is protected. Among the measures in the new law will be a power to instruct one of the three retail banks – AIB, Bank of Ireland, and Permanent TSB – to put an ATM in an area that has been identified as being under-serviced.

Banks have been getting out of the ATM business, with cash-in-transit and new operators stepping in to take over. The big nonbank ATM operators are US multinationals Euronet and Brinks, Dublin-based IATM, and Belfast-based Pivotal.

The new Bill will introduce regulation for ATM operators, something that grates with Seán Sweeney, of the ATM Supply Company, based in Ardee Co Louth.

“They only decided to do this once the banks got out, as if banks never broke the law,” Sweeney says.

According to Sweeney, operators like his company get 33 cent per transaction, which is not enough to make a profit if the shop or petrol station where the ATM is located is not itself putting the cash into the machine.

“We are a private business, here to make money. We need to have double the fee we are getting if a lot more ATMs are not going to close,” Sweeney says.

In other countries, he says, ATM operators are allowed charge up to €2 per transaction and there are “ATMs on every corner”.

More than 600,000 people aged over 60 do not or cannot bank online, according to Age Action Ireland, the advocacy group for older people.

“Cash is a public good,” says a spokeswoman for the group. “There is a link between people not being able to participate in the economy, whether it be digital or cash, and social exclusion, meaning people being excluded from social activities and not being able to participate.”

Examples of the way the introduction of cashless policies can promote social exclusion include the GAA not selling tickets for cash at stadium turnstiles, and Bus Éireann’s digital payment policy for people wanting to book seats on regional buses, (at a cost of €5).

“There are older persons on the Donegal to Dublin bus route who haven’t been able to book their seats and so haven’t been able to access the bus because the seats have all been pre-booked for further down the line. So they are left behind,” the spokeswoman says.

Many older people who are not set up for digital banking, shopping or paying bills are finding ways around their dilemma but often by sharing their banking details or their PINs with others, says the spokeswoman.

Being able to use cash is also important for other groups, such as the low-paid people in the gig-economy, and people in abusive relationships who may be trying to accumulate a “running away fund”.

“Age Action Ireland has been long campaigning for the Government to make an intervention to protect cash in the economy,” the spokeswoman says.

The organisation would like to see the Government take a broad view on what are the essential goods and services that must remain available to cash customers.

“It shouldn’t just mean medicines at the pharmacy and services at the post office,” says the Age Action spokeswoman.

“Would a cup of tea on the train between Cork and Dublin be considered an essential service and Irish Rail be compelled to take cash? It doesn’t on some services now.”