Ahern may look at higher ATM fees after €300,000 robbery and kidnap


IRISH BANKS may need to impose much larger ATM fees on their customers if the number of bank robberies involving hostage taking is to be reduced, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said.

He was speaking yesterday in the wake of the kidnapping of a bank manager’s wife, who was held hostage by an armed gang until her husband handed over €300,000 from the AIB branch where he works.

Mr Ahern said while the banks, bank workers and the gardaí had gone to considerable lengths to reduce such robberies, known as “tiger raids”, it was now time to examine if the amount of cash in circulation in Ireland should be reduced. Imposing higher fees for ATM transactions might discourage a dependence on cash and in turn reduce the amount of cash held by banks that could be targeted by organised crime gangs.

“This is something that I did raise with the heads of the banks, and something I suppose as a nation that we have to come to terms with; that we’re not as cashless a society as most of our European colleagues,” Mr Ahern said.

“If you go to other countries in Europe you’ll find that there is less cash swilling about the place than there is here in Ireland, in proportion.”

Irish banks already impose relatively small charges for some ATM transactions but charges per transaction are higher in some other jurisdictions.

Fine Gael’s spokesman for social protection Michael Ring TD said it was “disgraceful” that Mr Ahern was using the latest tiger raid as a means of mooting higher bank charges.

“Minister Ahern has some cheek to fly a kite on a proposed charge for the use of ATMs just hours after yet another bank official and his wife have been put through hell by heartless criminals.”

Mr Ring said most cash in bank branches was stored there for use by the banks’ commercial customers and not private customers who use ATMs.

Mr Ahern made his comments on the ATM charges yesterday after news emerged of a so-called tiger raid.

At around 11pm on Wednesday three masked men, at least one of whom was armed with a sawn-off shotgun, broke into the home of an AIB bank manager at Domville Drive, Templeogue, south Dublin.

The raiders held the bank manager and his wife hostage in their home until around 7.30am yesterday, when the woman was taken by the gang from the house in a black 10 D registered VW Golf.

Her husband was instructed by the gang to go to work at the AIB Clondalkin branch in west Dublin as normal yesterday morning. He was then given further instructions by phone later in the morning and told to bring a bag of money to a drop-off point at Cherrywood, close to the bank branch.

He drove his 08 black Nissan Qashqai to the drop-off point, leaving it unlocked with the money inside.

A gang member then arrived at 10.30am and took the car with the bag containing just under €300,000. At 12.45pm the bank manager’s wife was released unharmed at Ballybrew Quarry in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

AIB officials had contacted gardaí while the robbery was still under way. Although a rapid response operation involving members of the Emergency Response Unit and National Surveillance Unit was put in place, the gang evaded gardaí.

However, The Irish Timesunderstands gardaí have already identified suspects for the raid and arrests are expected.

One source said the fact the woman was held for so long after the money left the bank branch complicated the investigation, making it difficult for gardaí to move in on the gang members collecting the cash.