Four First Trust branches to close
The First Trust Bank is to shut four branches in Northern Ireland.
The branch in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, is due to close at the end of September with the shutters coming down on two branches in Belfast and a fourth in Ballynahinch, Co Down, by the end of November.
The closures are part of an ongoing restructuring programme, according to the bank and the announcement follows the decision by the Ulster Bank to lay off as many as 1,800 staff and close up to 40 branches, the vast majority in the Republic.
Des Moore, First Trust Bank's head of customers and distribution, said staff affected by the closures would be offered voluntary redundancy packages or redeployment.
He said: "Like all retail organisations, we must constantly review our costs to move forward as a sustainable organisation. As customer habits change and more choose to bank through online channels, we have seen a marked decline in branch usage, making some locations unsustainable. Our immediate focus will be to ensure that this change happens as seamlessly as possible for our customers."
The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who attended the annual conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Belfast, said he was shocked by the Ulster Bank announcement and the way it had been made public was absolutely disgraceful. He said it brought no honour to the bank.
He added: "Banks in general on the island of Ireland have rightly had a bad press over the course of recent times, not least because of the revelations with the Anglo tapes. Any announcement that sees the prospect of rural offices closing and people being thrown on the dole queue is very bad news indeed."
Mr McGuinness said he had been approached by workers seeking meetings with himself and First Minister Peter Robinson.
"The big difficulty is that the banks for far too long have been a law unto themselves," he claimed. "There is a huge responsibility on the Irish and British governments, these people have more power and control over banks than a local administration like ours. They have a job to do and a duty to bring banks into line."
He added: "What we are clearly seeing is banks adopting a very cavalier approach to how they deal with customers and how they deal with their own staff." He said during a recent tranche of job losses Ulster Bank had said those would be the last. "That is not the way to do business, either with a government, with customers or with their own staff," he added.