Belfast Telegraph

Irish minister presses top banks over cuts in staff

By Áine Kerr

Bank bosses in the Republic have been bluntly asked by the Irish government to confirm if they plan on axing thousands of jobs.

Irish Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe has written to taxpayer-backed Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and Bank of Ireland (BoI) demanding "urgent clarity" on their plans for workers' jobs.

His demand for an immediate meeting with bank bosses comes amid speculation that workers are to be laid off in branches across the country. AIB employs more than 23,000, and BoI more than 14,000.

Last week, BoI refused to give details of its jobs outlook following the recent announcement of 750 cuts in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain, but said it "continues to review costs on an ongoing basis".

Announcing half-year losses of ?2bn, AIB last week confirmed it was reviewing its branch network as it seeks a return to profitability.

It has been speculated that AIB could lay off up to 3,000 staff who provide support to its overseas businesses, which are for sale.

In letters this week to the managing director of AIB, Colm Doherty, and the chief executive of BoI, Richie Boucher, Mr O'Keeffe said he was "very concerned" about reports that large-scale job losses were expected in the banking sector.

The minister said he was also concerned about the potential impact on the availability of various banking services to businesses across the country.

The minister told bank bosses he wanted to get a sense of the nature and scale of any possible job losses so that the Government could work proactively with the enterprise agencies in the most effective way as early as possible.

"It would be helpful to get an indication of the number, location, skill and experience profile of employees who may be affected in each bank," the minister said.

He added he was also seeking information on the voluntary or involuntary nature of any planned redundancy process.

And he reiterated his resolve to keep pressure on bank chiefs to lend to viable small businesses, saying he would recall them for further talks in the autumn if necessary.

"The Government is closely monitoring the lending performance of our two main banks and, if we feel they are still stonewalling viable small businesses, we will haul them in again to remind them of their responsibilities to the Irish taxpayer and the key role they play in our economic recovery," he said.

The Economic and Social Research Institute recently warned that the Government would have to force banks to lend or Ireland would face a "decade of misery".

Both the BoI and AIB must provide ?3bn in both 2010 and 2011 to small business and the Government is keen to get definitive outlines of exactly how this money will be made available.

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