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Anger over AIB branch closures

Anger over AIB branch closures

Decision to shut four outlets causes outcry

Anton McNulty

The Government and Allied Irish Bank have been accused of abandoning rural Ireland following an announcement that four of the bank’s branches in Mayo are to close.
The decision by AIB to close branches in Belmullet, Ballyhaunis, Kiltimagh and Charlestown has been decried around the county, with politicians from all parties and business people criticising their decision. The news just came a day after Permanent TSB announced plans to  close its branch in Westport.
On Friday last, AIB announced it will close 67 branches nationwide, with the four selected Mayo branches on October 12. The Belmullet branch will relocate to Ballina, the Charletown branch to Swinford while the Kiltimagh and Ballyhaunis branches will both relocate to Claremorris.
The state-controlled bank insisted there will be no compulsory redundancies as part of the closures, with staff redeployed as part of the restructuring.
The state-controlled bank also announced that it will increase its mortgage rate by half of a percentage point just weeks after the ECB reduced its rate.

Abandoning rural Ireland
The bank’s plans, which are aimed at bringing it back to profitability, were roundly criticised as yet another removal of essential services from the county. Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray also criticised the government for what he sees as its lack of commitment to rural Ireland.
“AIB is a nationalised bank. The people own it. Yet it is being allowed to abandon rural communities across the state and to hike up its interest rates putting its customers under more financial strain. This is just weeks after the bank refused to pass on the ECB interest rate cut of half a percentage point to its customers.
“The government needs to show its commitment to rural Ireland. This government was elected on a promise to create jobs, yet again and again we hear of major job losses and the live register stands at nearly half a million. Its action to create jobs has been pathetic and subservient to its commitment to pump billions into zombie banks.
“Like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael are refusing to burn the bond holders, but they have no difficulty in burning rural Ireland with more garda stations, post offices, and banks to close so that Wall Street bankers can be bailed out. Ireland is the laughing stock of the world, as it is taking the risk out of capitalism and forcing ordinary decent people to pick up the tab. Michael Davitt must be turning in his grave,” he said.
AIB’s Head of Branch Banking, Denis O’Callaghan defended their decision to close the branches saying that changes in population and customer banking usage as well as improvements in technology have led to a fall in demand for traditional branch services. He pointed out that additional AIB banking services in An Post will be established. AIB committed to continuing its mobile banking service in its existing locations in Mayo while extending the service to Belmullet and Bangor.
However, Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony criticised the bank’s decision and questioned AIB’s overall strategy and the rationale behind the decision.
“The AIB can come up with any amount of reasons for making the decision they made but my responsibility is to the communities that are being impacted upon. Questions must be asked as to how a town can be left without any bank after the closures of other banks and how well thought out the strategy was. It’s all fine and well for the AIB to quote figures of the growth in the usage of online banking but for a lot of people living in rural Ireland online banking isn’t an option.”

‘Kick in the teeth’
Erris Chamber of Commerce President Brendan Hegarty who is an AIB customer  told The Mayo News that he will be contemplating moving to another bank because of its decision to leave Belmullet, and he believes other business people are of the same mind.
“We are not very impressed that the branch will close. [We] face the prospect of a 50-mile trip to do our banking. I would go to the bank at least once a week to do my business and I got to know the staff. Now we will have to go to another branch. I will be looking at going to another bank because it is either that or take half a day off work. I can’t afford to take that time of work. It is another kick in the teeth for Erris,” he said.
Fianna Fáil TD, Dara Calleary criticised the ‘aggressive’ cost cutting plan by AIB, which has committed to 2,500 redundancies by 2014. He said the government must play a strong role in guaranteeing that those who lose their jobs are offered re-training.
“Local bank branches are a pivotal part of so many communities here in Mayo and across the country. While I recognise that there is a growing trend of online banking, customer service must remain a top priority for banks. Many of AIB’s customers here are simply not in a position to use internet banking or to travel to branches elsewhere,” he said.
Once the closure of the branches takes place, AIB will be left with six branches in Mayo. Ulster Bank will have seven branches in Mayo, while Bank of Ireland has ten.