THE withdrawal of Ulster Bank from the Irish market would be a "major hammer blow" to customers and workers, the Dáil has heard.
Sinn Féin's spokesperson on finance Pearse Doherty warned that vulture funds could take over the bank's €20.5 billion loan book if it pulls out of the market.
"There has been speculation now for months that Cerberus, one of the most aggressive vulture funds in this State, is circling Ulster Bank's entire €20.5 billion loan book," he said.
"This would be an unacceptable outcome for homeowners, for borrowers, and it must be avoided at all costs.
"The best scenario is that Ulster Bank remains a part of our banking sector and I hope that is what is to come to pass," he continued.
Deputy Doherty said that if NatWest announces Ulster Bank's withdrawal there is a responsibility on the Government to act to ensure "all that can be done is done to minimise the damage that would be caused".
It follows reports that the board of NatWest, the parent company of Ulster Bank, was due to meet on tofday to decide on the future of Ulster Bank in the Irish market.
In a statement this afternoon, NatWest said:
“We continue to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 and the challenges to the economy and we are reviewing our strategy appropriately and responsibly in light of these events.
“In the event of any changes being made to our strategy, these would be undertaken with full consideration of any impact on customers, colleagues and shareholders in the first instance.
“Our priority now is to continue to remain focused on supporting our colleagues in serving our customers in these difficult times."
Solidarity TD and Oireachtas Finance committee member Mick Barry also called for mortgage holders to be protected from vulture funds if Ulster Bank pulls out of the market.
“The bank needs to be saved and run on a not for profit basis saving jobs and the important services it provides to the community.
“This can only be done by nationalising the bank and putting in place a new board which serves the people not big business interests,” he said.
It is understood an announcement could be made on Friday morning following the NatWest review today.
Cork-based MEP Billy Kelleher said: “This is yet another blow to the economy. At this stage, I feel the Government must invest in a fully independent analysis of the Irish banking system, and in particular the credit market for SMEs and mortgage holders. The stability of our economy depends on a functioning banking system.
“At a European level, the completion of the Banking Union and the creation of a Single Market for Mortgages has never been more important. We must make it viable and attractive for non-Irish banks to enter the Irish market. This is the only way we can avoid increasing costs for consumers and damage to our economy,” added Mr Kelleher.