AIB staff devastated by plan to close 72 branches in Republic and Northern Ireland

Issued : 27 July 2012

Over 340 bank officials in 67 locations in the Republic of Ireland have learned today that their Branches have been earmarked for closure under proposals announced by AIB Group this morning. The Bank has also identified a further five branches in its First Trust Bank subsidiary in Northern Ireland.

"This has been a traumatic announcement for many of these staff - who are facing the prospect of redundancy or relocation. It will also come as a major shock to customers in these areas - who have come to rely on the service from their local branch," said IBOA General Secretary, Larry Broderick.

"Apart from the impact of these closures on the seventy-two locations on the island of Ireland, there is also a wider issue of public policy that must be considered," said the IBOA leader, "and that it the urgent need for an integrated strategic approach to Irish banking."

"What we are witnessing at the present time is the piecemeal dismantling of Ireland's banking infrastructure," said Larry Broderick. "Our major banks are taking decisions based on their own narrow institutional interest - rather than any wider public interest - which could result in large areas of the country becoming banking no-go areas as far as any physical presence is concerned. Far from being 'over-banked,' we could soon arrive at a position where many towns around Ireland have an ATM and little else.

"AIB is one of Ireland's two pillar banks: it is also almost entirely State-owned. As such, we would expect it to recognise that bank branches play an important social as well as commercial role in local communities. However, it appears that the Bank is being allowed by its shareholder to take decisions on its future operations with little or no regard for the communities and the customers they serve."

"We believe that, as the State occupies such a dominant position in Irish banking at this time. the Irish Government is well placed to develop a comprehensive approach which looks at the sector as a whole and seeks to co-ordinate operations in the wider public interest."

Today's announcement on branch closures in AIB follows the revelation earlier this week of moves to close 16 Permanent TSB branches and the announcement at the beginning of July of National Irish Bank's plan to shut down its retail network.

"One of the key assumptions behind this retreat from the Main Street is that customers will conduct their business online or by phone," said the IBOA leader. "But the recent experience of Ulster Bank demonstrates how dangerous it can be to put all your eggs in the technology basket, no matter how attractive the proposition might seem at first glance. The saving grace for Ulster Bank in the recent crisis was the performance of its human assets - the staff on the frontline - who could interact on a personal level with individual customers.

"Ulster Bank's own extensive programme of redundancies - which had been agreed before the crisis - has now been put on hold pending a review of the bank's operations in the wake of the catastrophic RBS computer glitch.

"AIB's solution of providing a limited range of basic banking services through An Post's branch network is by no means ideal. Since An Post's future operational decisions are likely to be dictated by its core business - delivering mail, they may not necessarily coincide with the needs of bank customers. Furthermore bank officials are required to meet professional standards demanded by the Central Bank as a guarantee of competence for customers. We would like to know the Central Bank's view of these trends.

"Above all, we need a co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy for Irish banking - which, in our view, is the duty of the Irish Government to deliver. IBOA is willing and able to play its part in its development. But it needs to happen now - before these ad hoc decisions create a situation which we all come to regret in the future.

"The lessons of allowing financial institutions to engage in ill-directed and unco-ordinated decision-making in the past should be clear for all to see. We need clarity. We need a vision. We need it now," said Larry Broderick.