East Mayo sustained a “bitter blow” this week with the news that Bank of Ireland is closing branches in Ballyhaunis, Charlestown, and Kiltimagh.
“It’s all rural communities that are affected; it shows where they consider corporate Ireland is,” Ballyhaunis businessman Tom Forde says of the bank’s decision to close 103 branches across the country. In Co Sligo, branches in Tubbecurry and Ballymote will be closed, while in Co Roscommon, Elphin and Strokestown will lose their outlets.
BoI blames a reduction in footfall — down 60% since 2017 — and an increase in digital usage for the closures, but Mr Forde has accused management of a “concerted effort” to reduce customer numbers by cutting services in 2017 and forcing people to travel to branches in Claremorris and Castlerea, both of which will remain open.
“We have almost 2,500 people employed in Ballyhaunis and we consider ourselves a vibrant and successful community, yet Bank of Ireland feels it can’t make a living out of this town,” he said.
Charlestown-based Gerry Murray, Sinn Féin councillor, has described the bank’s attitude as “shocking”, given that they were bailed out by the people. The reduction in services at the Charlestown branch was “just an exit strategy in the long term”, but to make matters worse, “Bank of Ireland helped block an EU competitor’s entry into the Irish market”.
“A German bank was very keen to enter into the Irish market but AIB, which the taxpayer owns, and Bank of Ireland, of which we are a large stakeholder, objected to it, because they were coming in offering cheaper mortgages to people. They don’t want to provide the services, but they don’t want anyone else doing it, either.”
Kiltimagh and Ballyhaunis have both lost financial institutions before: AIB left Kiltimagh and Ulster Bank closed in Ballyhaunis a number of years ago.
After disclosing an underlying loss of €374m for 2020, Bank of Ireland has partnered with An Post to provide banking services from the latter part of the year. But Dara Mulvey, cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council, said An Post is “unable to deal with your business in a private capacity”.