Bank of Ireland set to close eight branches across Northern Ireland
Bank of Ireland is shutting eight branches across Northern Ireland with the potential loss of dozens of jobs - leaving one rural border village without a bank.
It says it will shut eight locations - almost a quarter of its 36 branches - "where the volume of business is insufficient to sustain them".
And the closure of the Belleek branch in Co Fermanagh has been branded a "blow" to the community - the last bank branch open in the village.
Now, customers and businesses will have to travel more than 20 miles to their closest bank branch. Around 50 staff will be affected by the closures. The bank says there will be a voluntary redundancy scheme, and the opportunity for others to move elsewhere in the business.
The branches scheduled for closure are Castlereagh, Draperstown, Antrim, Belleek, Castlederg, Newtownards, Maghera and Donegall Square South in Belfast.
Sean Sheehan, regional director of Bank of Ireland UK, said the "decision to close branches is not taken lightly".
He said: "We understand that it will be disappointing for those customers who use them.
"A key priority will be to ensure customers understand the alternative arrangements available, and to maintain continuity of customer service."
Bank of Ireland says the closures will happen on a "phased basis commencing late autumn 2016".
Wilfred Mitchell, policy chairman of the FSB said it was a "significant blow to the local economy" as it will reduce service and competition generally.
"This closure programme, which has a particularly unwelcome rural focus, follows earlier closures in 2013 that will do nothing to inspire business confidence," he said.
And Larry Broderick of the Financial Services Union blasted the closures. "The decision by Bank of Ireland to announce eight branch closures and over 50 redundancies is not only regrettable, but irresponsible given the impact it will have on customers and staff," he said.
"Given that Bank of Ireland is expected to announce significant profits at the end of the month, this announcement is a kick in the teeth for both customers and staff in Northern Ireland."
Speaking about the impact in Belleek, Sinn Fein councillor John Feely said businesses were already concerned about the impact the closure will have, adding that their closest bank is now in the Republic.
"It's still a vital service to the community for personal and business banking," he said.
"We are a very big tourist town as well. It's a massive blow for the community."
He said there was also limited broadband connection in the area, making internet banking difficult, or impossible.
Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott called on Bank of Ireland to "reconsider this proposal" and said the "move is not only unwelcome, but unwarranted".