Suicide linked to banks' actions
Morally questionable actions of banks in Northern Ireland are contributing to customers taking their own lives, church leaders have warned.
Senior religious figures made the stark claim as they gave a joint presentation to a special Assembly committee hearing on the problems business owners are having with bankers in the current economic climate.
Reverend Donald Kerr of the Methodist Church told MLAs that the churchmen had heard first hand of the tragic consequences financial pressures had visited on some families.
"The claim that someone has taken their own life in part because of the way in which they were treated by the banks we recognise is a very large claim and we do not recount it lightly," he said.
"But we recount it because that is what we have been told by credible sources. It has not been our responsibility to investigate it in tight forensic detail but nevertheless that is what we have heard and therefore we heard it with pastoral concern and we pass it on.
"We have heard it, we believe it to be credible and out of pastoral concern all in this society including this assembly needs to know the implications of the kind of decisions that are taken and their impact, not least on people involved, including, I should add on people working in the banking sector as well - they are also our pastoral concern."
The four main denominations in the region have expressed moral and ethical concerns about the banks and have met with senior bank officials over the summer to discuss their misgivings.
Among the issues, the churchmen raised were a reluctance to lend; hikes in interest rates and transaction charges; immediate withdrawal of overdrafts; inaccessibility of decision makers; micro-management of a business's affairs and perceived discrimination against areas like construction.
Rev Kerr was joined at Stormont by Reverend John McDowell, the Honorary Secretary of the Church of Ireland General Synod, and Father Tim Bartlett, an advisor to All Ireland Primate Cardinal Sean Brady. President of the Presbyterian Church Reverend Norman Hamilton had also been due to attend the joint hearing of the Finance and Personnel committee and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee but had been unexpectedly indisposed on other matters.
Father Bartlett stressed that banks' actions were only one factor in the suicides they had heard of. "We did say 'in part' - that it was a contributory factor - that a loss of a business and the consequences of that bring their own stresses and strains and the particularities of somebody's situation may lead them to this fatal decision."