PLANS by Bank of Ireland to close three branches in Clare have been described as a “body blow”.
The bank confirmed today (Monday, March 1) that it is to close its branches in Tulla, Miltown Malbay and Kilkee from the end of September. It comes as part of plans to close 103 across the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland.
Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley, a Tulla resident, said, “The decision by Bank of Ireland to close three of its branches in Clare is extremely disappointing and represents a significant blow for communities in Tulla, Kilkee and Miltown Malbay.
“Older people and the business community will be disproportionately impacted by the decision. For older people many prefer to go into their branch and deal with people rather than use online banking.
“The retail, business and hospitality community will be very seriously impacted as they will have to travel much further now to lodge money in county towns – which in some cases could lead to them keeping money on premises or in their homes, creating further risks of burglaries.”
Senator Dooley welcomed a partnership announcement with An Post and said it made the need to protect the rural postal service even more urgent.
Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District, Councillor Pat Hayes said the news had created significant concern locally. “This is a body blow,” he said. “The message in Tulla now is that you can go to Ennis or Limerick to do your banking business and that’s not good enough. There are security risks now for businesses who have cash to lodge and to older people who might now be more likely to keep cash in the house, which we know puts them in danger. Tulla is a growing town and these are not normal times. To do this during a pandemic is wrong. The banks should be working with communities not depriving them of services.”
In Kilkee, Councillor Cillian Murphy described the move as “hardly unsurprising, but deeply disappointing”. “I acknowledge that people are moving towards doing their banking online, but this is another service that will be withdrawn from rural West Clare. The population of Loop Head and of West Clare generally, is an older one and has the kind of people who need to go to a bank branch. This is another layer of awkwardness for doing business as a citizen or a company. To say that Kilrush is just eight miles aware really isn’t good enough either. If you have to travel from Kilbaha, that’s a 16-mile round trip and the time that takes out of your day.”
Councillor Murphy acknowledged the partnership with An Post and said it might provide a lifeline for the network. “Ultimately, decisions about the sustainability of rural communities are being made by corporate entities and that’s a concern.”
Deputy Cathal Crowe said that in recent representations to Bank of Ireland, he had received “what can only be described as a lukewarm response”.
“This is indicative that their commitment to improving the service offered in small towns has been on the wane for some time now and today’s unfortunate news confirms that,” he said. “I hope that Bank of Ireland will reconsider some of the planned closures and it’s a point I hope to discuss with colleagues in Fianna Fáil and more widely in government.
“It also must be highlighted that the proposal to have a Bank of Ireland service in post offices isn’t a panacea because as we’ve seen in Clare, An Post is watery in terms of its commitment to rural Ireland too.
“A departure of both a post office and bank leaves communities at a total disadvantage and it’s something that must not be forgotten about by high flying businessmen and women in Dublin City.”
Clare’s Independent TD, Deputy Michael McNamara said the move “underpins the financial sector’s push towards online banking at the expense of many people in rural Ireland”.
“While I acknowledge that many people now do some of their banking online, there is a considerable number of people, in particular the elderly, but also small business owners, who rely heavily on over-the-counter and personal transactions,” explained Deputy McNamara. “In making this decision, the Bank of Ireland is abandoning those who have shown a lifetime of loyalty to the company and it is also overlooking those who simply do not feel comfortable going online.”
Deputy McNamara said it is “disingenuous” of Bank of Ireland to cite decreased footfall over the past 12 months for the closure announcement considering the restrictions on movement imposed by lockdowns.
He continued, “These closures will have a particular impact in towns and villages where there is no ATM. In Tulla for example, I requested Bank of Ireland to provide an ATM in the town but was told that it would not be possible due to the prohibitive cost of doing so. There is an ATM in the local Supervalu, but withdrawal limits are in place here and access is restricted by the outlet’s opening hours. It is important that ATM facilities in Kilkee and Miltown Malbay are maintained to enable people to lodge and withdraw cash, while I would ask Bank of Ireland to review the provision of such a service in Tulla.”
Deputy McNamara criticised Tánaiste Leo Varadkar saying he showed a lack of understanding of the impact of the closures.
He described the partnership with An Post as good news but added, “I would be concerned that this service could be undermined by An Post’s ongoing review of its network which is highlighted by its recent decision to close the Post Office in Broadford”.
Gavin Kelly, CEO, Retail Ireland, Bank of Ireland said: “Although the trend has been to close branches, we have kept our branch network largely unchanged over the past decade. But we’ve now reached a tipping point between online and offline banking. Technology is evolving, and customers are using branches less, year on year. Between 2017 and 2020 footfall at the branches which are closing dropped by c60% on average. And even before COVID-19, branch footfall had reduced by almost a quarter over two years. Our mobile app is our busiest channel, c.430k customers log in each day, and traffic is up one third since 2018.
“That’s why we’ve announced changes today. We’re changing our branch network so it meets today’s demand, but we doing this in a way that protects local access to physical banking for those who want it through a new partnership with An Post. This ensures continuity of services locally for both personal and business customers.
“We know changes like this can cause concern for some customers. We’re not making these changes immediately – no branches will close in the next six months. That ensures that the An Post partnership is up and running before any branches close, and we will communicate fully with all customers about every option available, in a nearby BOI branch, online or at a local post office.