Union anger as Bank of Ireland closes eight branches
The Bank of Ireland is closing eight branches in Northern Ireland.
Branches in Castlereagh, Draperstown, Antrim, Belleek, Castlederg, Newtownards, Maghera and in Donegall Square South behind Belfast City Hall are to shut on a phased basis starting in the autumn.
The bank said the 54 staff who work in the impacted branches will be able to "transfer, redeploy or relocate to other roles" or apply for voluntary redundancy.
Explaining the restructuring decision, the bank said the volume of business passing through the eight branches was insufficient to sustain in the long term.
It added that the decision reflected the "evolving banking needs" of a growing number of customers who preferred digital banking.
Sean Sheehan, of Bank of Ireland UK, said: "The decision to close branches is not taken lightly, and 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."
Mr Sheehan added: "We are responding to the continuing shift in customer behaviour towards increased use of digital and online channels, and the changes announced today will put us in the best position to continue to support our customers' changing needs and grow our business in the future."
The bank will continue to operate 28 branches in Northern Ireland.
The Belfast City Hall branch premises will become the bank's first Enterprise Lounge in Northern Ireland, offering entrepreneurs and business start-ups free facilities and services.
The bank said it would write to individual customers affected at least 60 days before their branch closes.
Wednesday's announcement does not impact the bank's branch network in the Republic of Ireland.
The Financial Services Union (FSU) criticised the decision.
FSU general secretary Larry Broderick 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 who supported the Bank during the financial crisis.
"At a time when the union is discussing with the bank the impact of existing workloads on both staff and customers, this announcement is a retrograde step which is more focussed on cost cutting and enhancing profits rather than customers and staff."
The FSU said it would commence negotiations with the bank on Thursday.
Mr Broderick said: "The FSU will be challenging the bank's plans and, although the bank has confirmed that all redundancies will be voluntary, the union calls on politicians to support its campaign to challenge this decision in the interest of all stakeholders and the wider Northern Ireland economy."