The country’s town centres, “from Cashel to Dunmanway”, will be “further hollowed” as fewer people travel to towns with no bank branch, according to the Rural Independent Group of TDs.

Speaking today (Monday, October 11), the leader of the group, deputy Mattie McGrath, said that the closing of 88 Bank of Ireland branches across the state represents a “significant blow” to the country.

‘Whittling away’ of rural services

“Yet, the government, who hold a 12% stake in the bank, have remained shamefully silent about this whittling away of rural services,” the Tipperary TD said.

“Bank branches serving communities for over a century are now closed. This will have a particularly dramatic impact on rural communities and towns nationwide.

“The government, which pumped almost €30 billion of taxpayers’ money into Ireland’s three largest banks during the financial crisis – Bank of Ireland receiving €4.7 billion, for example – has completely failed its duty of care to taxpayers and protection of customers’ rights and access to banking services.”

Governmental weakness

Deputy McGrath drew particular attention to the “profound impact” that the closures will have on elderly customers, “many of whom are not comfortable with online transactions and prefer in-person banking”.

“Such customers have been disappointed by the bank, the government and the Central Bank as regulator,” the deputy said.

“This episode again illustrates a governmental weakness in oversight and regulation, despite a significant shareholding position in the bank.”

The deputy said that for over a century, bank branches have been a “pillar business in rural towns”.

“For over a century, bank branches have been a pillar business in rural towns; their departure will cast a gloomy cloud over struggling areas that have lost other once-thriving businesses and services.

“In fact, the closures are effectively another nail in the coffin of rural and small-town Ireland – local banks provide footfall in towns which other businesses rely on – now more than ever.

“Bank of Ireland has justified the closure of more than a third of its branches by the dramatic shift to online transactions, which increased before the pandemic.

“However, this rationale proves inadequate, as many people still prefer human contact and to conduct business transactions with a friendly and trusted face.”

The deputy added that rural constituents had already been reporting increasing costs in accessing financial services.

“Local bank branches have served as important partners to small businesses, family farms, and families seeking to buy or refinance a home.

“Often, the only source of credit for rural consumers was their local bank. Today, that partnership has been forever changed for so many.”