The latest round of bank closures announced by AIB does not hide the fact that banks are becoming ever more detached from the needs of their customers in rural Ireland, according to a farm organisation.
ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has said that while most of the latest shutdowns are in urban areas - banking is moving away from rural areas in with greater intent. He says the banking policy
“Already in 2021, we have seen announcements that Ulster Bank is gradually closing down its business in this country. Bank of Ireland announced the closure of 88 branches earlier this year, and many of these are in rural areas.”
“It’s all very well saying that the typical customer is able to manage their banking needs online. However, this is not the case for self-employed people or people trying to run their own businesses, where there is an ongoing need to lodge cheques but also to use other banking services involving significant sums of money which are not necessarily available online.
"While An Post offers cheque lodging facilities, this is only available in some branches and the list is very hit and miss. There is no post office in all of East Cork apparently geared up for banking services. Banking online also depends on good broadband which is actually getting worse in some rural areas.
"Meanwhile, the roll-out of fibre optic is making progress but the actual connection of homes and businesses in rural areas continues to be put on the long finger,” he said.
The ICSA president says closures compound the damage done by Covid.
“All of this is undermining the economies of small towns and rural areas. The impact of Covid on small towns and rural facilities has been particularly disastrous but nobody in government realises just how bad things are.”
“Banking is particularly important. But it can’t be an exclusively remote process where rural areas are forgotten about. We have already seen that in relation to borrowing. Credit facilities to farmers are very much skewed in favour of large-scale dairy expansion projects which are actually sanctioned from Dublin.
"But the reality is that many good and secure proposals for credit are turned down by distant bank credit systems based in Dublin and the autonomy of local bank officials has been decimated. All of this is part of an attitude that banking is a process for big cities, and this is not good for rural Ireland.
“The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye, particularly as the state is a major shareholder in the pillar banks (71% AIB, 13.9% Bank of Ireland). But more importantly, the government’s commitment to rural Ireland will be measured by how much they are willing to see banking services decimated in rural Ireland,” he concluded.
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