The leader of the Rural Independent Group has called for a Dáil debate on the decision to sell part of the State’s bank shareholding.

On Tuesday (December 21), the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe announced that he intends to sell some of the State’s 71.12% shareholding in AIB Group Plc.

The pre-arranged trading plan, managed by Merrill Lynch International, will take place over the next six months and is part of the phased exit by the State from its AIB shareholding.

The minister said to protect the taxpayers’ interest shares will not be sold below a certain price per share, which the Department of Finance will keep under review.

Bank bailout

However, the plan has been slammed by the Rural Independent Group, which claims that the taxpayer will lose out as a result of the decision.

Leader of the group, Mattie McGrath said that “AIB was bailed out by almost €21 billion during the bank bailout, with taxpayers paying the bill”.

“The failure of the government to protect the public interest means that AIB alone was allowed to close 75 branches across the State since 2008.

“Since being bailed out, AIB has fixated on decreasing costs through staff cuts and branch closures. Staff numbers were cut by 1,183 at AIB between 2016 and 2020, yet the wage bill at the bank ballooned by €30 million over the same period.

“This raises serious questions around justification for branch closures,” the Tipperary TD said.

Rural communities

Deputy McGrath claimed that rural communities had felt the brunt of bank closures, adding that this government and previous administrations had abdicated their responsibilities.

“Prior to closures, many rural communities often had only one or two bank branches, meaning even one closure could leave residents and businesses vulnerable to predatory practices, as banking ‘deserts’ do not bode well for our national economy.

“Towns and rural communities weaken as branches close. A mobile phone is no substitute for a full-service bank branch.

“Since the bailout, the government wilfully allowed bailed out banks to close branches and refuse access to credit nationally,” he said.

Deputy McGrath said that a “fully frank” Dáil debate is needed on these issues before any approval is given to sell more of the State’s AIB shareholding.

“The public deserve transparency and input; their banking concerns must be heard and debated on the floor of Dáil Éireann,” he concluded.