Widespread Bank of Ireland closures a further ‘erosion’ of business in rural Ireland

A total of 88 branches, a third of the network, shut their doors for last time on Friday

A total of 88 Bank of Ireland branches are shutting their doors for the last time on Friday, with the company  saying the decision is due to it having reached a ‘tipping point’ between online and offline business.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A total of 88 Bank of Ireland branches are shutting their doors for the last time on Friday, with the company saying the decision is due to it having reached a ‘tipping point’ between online and offline business. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The closure of more than a third of Bank of Ireland’s branches is another step in the “erosion” of business in rural Ireland, a former manager with the company has said.

A total of 88 branches shut their doors for the last time on Friday, with the bank saying the decision is due to it having reached a “tipping point” between online and offline business.

When announcing the move in March, it said footfall at the branches selected for closure fell by 60 per cent on average between 2017 and last year, and that its mobile phone app was now its “busiest channel”, with 430,000 users logging in each day.

The bank’s branch in Mitchelstown was one of those closing and Ben Lynch, who managed it from 1994 to 2002, believes the development will be “massive blow” for the Co Cork town and many others.

“Maybe it is not so significant if you are in the city and there is another branch down the road, but it is a continuation of the erosion of a lot of businesses in rural Ireland,” he said.

“I just don’t appreciate the logic of closing a branch in a town of this size. There are three main banks in Mitchelstown - AIB, Bank of Ireland and (Permanent) TSB.

“After today Bank of Ireland is gone, TSB is a shell - there is no personal service. So then you are left with just one full service bank in a town of this size. There is a lot of online banking, but there are times when you do need to talk to a human being and that is gone.”

Protect access

In addition to online and telephone options, Bank of Ireland and An Post have entered into an arrangement which it says will “protect local access to over-the-counter banking”. Customers can now make deposits and withdrawals at hundreds of post office branches.

However, the charity Age Action Ireland criticised the closures, saying older people prefer to have the independence of going to their local bank branch.

It said with this choice gone in many places there was a greater risk of elder abuse, as people not in a position to travel or use online services would have to hand their financial affairs over to relatives, neighbours and friends.

In Co Cork, the Bantry branch is also going, meaning customers from the town face a trip to either Skibbereen, 28km away, or Kenmare, 44km away, if they want to visit their bank. The outlet in Dunmanway is also due to close.

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard said the move was a “slap in the face” for people who kept the banks going for decades and a tremendous loss to locals.

Deirdre O’Brien, a Mitchelstown based Fianna Fáil councillor, said she had expected the branch to shut permanently after it closed temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a disaster for the town - a loss of service but also a loss to its economy.”

Sad day

The Financial Services Union said it was a sad day for staff and customers and called on the Central Bank to open consultation on access to cash following the widespread closures.

“Despite cross-party opposition in the Dáil and in Stormont and across wide sections of the community, Bank of Ireland has continued along the pathway of eroding their footprint and removing vital services from communities across our country,” its general secretary John O’ Connell said.

He said the withdrawal of ATMs means people living in some communities will from next week no longer have 24/7 access to cash.

“Our banking sector is at a crossroads and needs a commitment from the Central Bank that the banking network will not disappear, and that they will be proactive in ensuring that communities and vulnerable people will not once again be hit the hardest,” he said.

Branches

Branches closed in 25 counties in the Republic with 15 closures also occurring in Northern Ireland.

Dublin has lost branches in the Law Library, James Street, Phibsborough, Ballycoolin, Killester, Merrion Road, Rathmines and Ballyfermot.

Limerick has seen closures in Askeaton, Abbeyfeale, Bruff, Caherdavin, Rathkeale, Roxboro and at the University of Limerick.

Nine Bank of Ireland branches across the midlands have closed with three outlets each in Laois, Offaly and Westmeath shutting their doors for good.

Cork has also lost nine branches whilst Donegal is down five. Three Bank of Ireland branches in Kerry have closed with Castleisland’s nearest BOI branch now 17.5km away in Tralee.

In Mayo the closure of the bank in Ballyhaunis means that locals will have to travel around 20km to Claremorris or Castlerea to access a BOI branch.

A total of 169 Bank of Ireland branches will remain open.