Belfast Telegraph

Closure of rural banks to be raised at Stormont

By John Mulgrew

Concerns over the planned closure of rural bank branches in Northern Ireland will be brought before the Assembly today.

The motion, tabled by the SDLP, states that "this Assembly is extremely concerned at the number of bank branches that are being closed in rural areas" and that it "is alarmed that large rural areas are without access to a local bank branch".

The motion calls on Economy Minister Simon Hamilton to "intervene meaningfully and encourage the banking sector to maintain a strong network of rural bank branches and to safeguard the existing bank branches within these communities from closure".

It comes after Bank of Ireland announced it will shut eight branches.

Earlier this month, First Minister Arlene Foster told Bank of Ireland it was "wrong" to pull out of Belleek in Co Fermanagh.

The DUP leader made her remark during a 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.

The new motion says it "recognises the limitations of many of the alternatives, such as mobile and internet banking, and the Post Office" but "believes that the provision of accessible banking is an integral part of social inclusion, with a particular impact on the elderly, notes the negative economic impact bank closures have on small businesses and on future investment opportunities".

Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Financial Services Union (FSU) said: "The recent decision by Bank of Ireland to close over 20% of its Northern Ireland branch network is a retrograde step which will deny some rural communities access to basic banking services.

"Negotiations between the FSU and Bank of Ireland are ongoing, but the proposals have raised a wider issue with implications for the sustainability of rural communities and businesses.

"The FSU has been engaging with local politicians to help address the problem of communities losing access to banking services. The issue needs to be tackled strategically and the banking industry has a responsibility to work collectively."

Belfast Telegraph