THE management of bailed-out Allied Irish Banks (AIB) came in for stinging criticism from Laois County Council members protesting at the news it is to shut down two local branches, affecting in the region of 5,000 customers.
Portarlington is to close its doors on October 26, with Abbeyleix set to close during the first half of 2013. And customers of both branches will relocate to the branch at Lyster Square, Portlaoise.
An annoyed Cllr John Joe Fennelly exclaimed at Monday’s council meeting: “The heart is being torn out of Abbeyleix and a letter must go to AIB saying enough is enough.”
Cllr Fennelly went on: “We have a situation in Abbeyleix, I know there are cutbacks, but the hospital is under pressure, the garda station is downgraded, the bus service is gone, the respite service is threatened.”
Laois County Council Cathaoirleach Paul Mitchell said he met with local traders in Portarlington and they are concerned about the decimation of services. “The post office on Main Street has closed and now we’ve the news of AIB closing in the town. It is a serious setback.”
Meanwhile Ann Dunne of the Portarlington Combined Residents Association commented: “This is a disgrace to our town.”
Sixty-seven branches are to close nationwide in what AIB has termed ‘changing in response to customer needs’.
Sinn Féin TD, Brian Stanley accused AIB of abandoning rural Ireland. “This is a serious blow to rural communities already suffering from a lack of investment and a constant withdrawal of vital services.”
He continued: “Although the Irish people own AIB, the bank is being allowed to abandon rural communities and to raise its interest rate just weeks after it refused to pass on the ECB interest rate cut.”
Deputy Stanley fumed: “This government was elected on a promise to create jobs but its action to reduce unemployment has been pathetic and subservient to its commitment to pump billions into zombie banks. Unfortunately the government’s record in rural Ireland is no better than its job creation record.”
Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming strongly criticised AIB for turning its back on Laois. “The Irish taxpayer has pumped billions into AIB and this is no way to treat the Irish public.”
Deputy Fleming added: “This shock decision to close branches in Abbeyleix and Portarlington is a bad day for AIB customers and staff.”
Coming in the wake of recent similar announcements by Permanent TSB and NIB, Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan stressed it was critical that AIB moves to reassure its farmer customers that a personal banking service will be maintained.
Mr Bryan outlined: “A strong working relationship between the farmer and his bank is an important part of any viable farm business. We have seen in recent weeks the continuing need for a responsive banking system that is aware of the challenges of the farming sector in 2012, arising from the difficult weather conditions and soaring input costs.”