Bank withdrawal in no one's interest, says Foster as she joins battle to save branch
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster yesterday told Bank of Ireland it was "wrong" to pull out of a Fermanagh border village.
The DUP leader made her remark during a half-hour visit to Belleek to mark the end of a five- day protest against the branch's closure.
More than 7,000 signatures have been gathered on a petition calling on the bank to reconsider a decision made in July that has sparked fury in a village on the Donegal border.
Mrs Foster revealed that Bank of Ireland regional manager Sean Sheehan would be coming to Belleek to receive the petition.
She said: "I think he needs to understand the strength of feeling but he needs to see it for himself.
"So that should be the next stage in all of this.
"I am First Minister, but I am also the local MLA - so I thought it was very important to come here and support the community who have such strong feelings about their last remaining bank in Belleek.
"Belleek is a tourist village and has the pottery, and is also a frontier village, so there are a lot people who come across the border to lodge sterling in the bank.
"It is something they feel very strongly about as they have gathered over 7,000 signatures in a very short time, and we are now hoping that the Bank of Ireland will come to Belleek to receive the signatures.
"It is wrong to close a branch like this. I can understand that in a modern world they have to rationalise, but if you are an elderly person living in Belleek or want to take some money out of the bank, you will have to make a round trip of 50 miles to Enniskillen just to do that. If the Bank of Ireland are genuine about delivering services to customers, then they should keep this bank open."
The Minister added: "I am hoping that during this so-called consultation period that they actually listen to what people are saying to them because there is no point in having a consultation period if you are just going to ignore what is being said to you."
Meanwhile, Belleek Pottery MD John Maguire urged the Bank to rethink its controversial decision.
"Visitors to Belleek expect to have a bank to go to when they come here to change currency.
'It is totally unacceptable that people would have to travel for 50 miles to change their money.
"We as a pottery have been working for over 30 years to build tourism, so it would be a very negative step to have the bank leave Belleek."
Mr Maguire added: "This decision needs to be re-visited and overturned."