Taoiseach seeks meeting with AIB as he calls for it to reconsider move towards cashless banks

Bank urged to reconsider decision to remove cash facilities from 70 of its 170 branches countrywide

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has sought a meeting with AIB officials after calling on the bank to reconsider its decision to remove cash facilities at 70 branches around the country.

Earlier this week the bank announced it was transforming 70 of its 170 branches into cashless outlets as a result of what it described as declining demand for these services.

Speaking in Singapore on the second last day of an official visit to Asia Mr Martin said while he understands the world is moving towards a more cashless society, many towns need this facility.

“There are a significant cohort of people, businesses and towns in Ireland who need this facility and I believe AIB and the banks should take notice of this,” Mr Martin told Virgin Media News.

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“I think AIB should reflect on this. I think the banks are part of society; they’ve got obligations as well in terms of the social contract.”

Sources in Government buildings confirmed that the Taoiseach has sought a meeting with the bank on the issue next week.

In a statement in response to the Taoiseach’s comments, AIB said it is “happy to engage with him” and will continue to engage with local communities.

“Under the enhanced 20-year “AIB at An Post” arrangement, bank customers wishing to access cash can do so locally at any of the country’s 920 post offices that offer longer opening hours and Saturday opening across the national post office network,” said AIB.

“At their local post office, customers can also withdraw up to €1,500 in cash per day from their AIB current account and lodge up to €5,000 a week in cash. In addition, businesses can lodge up to €50,000 by prior arrangement with the post office. The average distance to a local An Post office from a repurposed branch is less than 350 metres.”

The decision to make some of the branches cashless has been condemned by politicians, businesses, charities, sports teams and representatives of rural Ireland.

Nat O’Connor, senior public affairs and policy specialist at Age Action Ireland, welcomed the Taoiseach’s intervention. He said moving to a cashless system raises a “genuine risk” of financial elder abuse.

“Age Action wants to see the development of a model of inclusive banking for Ireland, where everyone can get access to affordable and accessible banking facilities so that they can fully participate in society,” said Dr O’Connor.

“We have written to AIB, the Minister for Finance, the Central Bank and the Irish Banking Culture Board to express the concerns of older people about the current situation.”

‘Vulnerable elderly’

Rose Mary McDonagh, national chairwoman of the farming business committee at the Irish Farmers’ Association, said the banking sector is “again abandoning the farming community and rural Ireland”.

“The diminished level of competition, and indeed traditional service provision, is a particular cause of concern — particularly among our most elderly and vulnerable members. Banking services in rural Ireland are now approaching extinction,” she said.

Fine Gael Chief Whip Brendan Griffin called for an emergency meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party to discuss a response to resolve the matter.

Fine Gael TD for Mayo Michael Ring has called on AIB to appear before the Oireachtas finance committee following the decision, which he said “flies in the face of basic decency and has rightly generated fury among people in the affected counties”.

Chairman of the Oireachtas finance committee John McGuinness said he had corresponded with the bank, which informed him it would be unable to appear before the committee before August 3rd.

“We will also be in touch with the Central Bank and the Minister. We need a community bank, similar to the Sparkasse bank in Germany,” Mr McGuinness told RTÉ.

Fianna Fáil TD James O’Connor has written to members of his parliamentary party, seeking their support for an emergency meeting with the Minister for Finance over AIB’s decision, stating it was “particularly concerning for vulnerable service users and small businesses”.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times