Disgust and disappointment have been expressed by politicians across Cork following what one described as the “knee-jerk” decision to close nine Bank of Ireland branches across Cork.
Branches at Cork CIT, Glanmire, Bantry, Cobh, Dunmanway, Kanturk, Millstreet, Mitchelstown and Youghal are set to close from September, while a new partnership with An Post will provide banking services locally.
Gavin Kelly, Retail Ireland CEO with Bank of Ireland, said that between 2017 and 2020 footfall at the branches which are closing dropped by about 60% on average.
"And even before Covid-19, branch footfall had reduced by almost a quarter over two years," he said.
However, some politicians expressed concern that the pandemic has been used as “cover for these closures”.
East Cork Fianna Fáil TD James O'Connor told The Echo he is "disgusted with Bank of Ireland's decision to strip customers of vital local branches in Youghal, Cobh and Mitchelstown” and called for a “proper explanation” for why the closures were necessary.
Meanwhile, Independent Councillor Ger Keohane said the imminent closure of the Glanmire branch is “disappointing” adding, “it provided a very good service down in Glanmire.
"People got their money and might have spent a few bob in local coffee shops and whatnot and do their shopping in Supervalu.
"It's just going to add more and more pressure on the Post Office and it's causing a big inconvenience to people."
Cork North Central Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said closing branches in Glanmire and at CIT is “a huge blow for customers and staff” and described it as “a slap in the face that will hurt customers, staff and communities.”
He is set to write to the CEO of Bank of Ireland, the Minister for Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank on the issue.
"They should reverse this decision immediately and commit to a moratorium on branch closures until the Covid-19 pandemic ends,” Mr Gould added.
Labour party councillor John Maher said bank branches are “intrinsic to the commercial and social life of main street Ireland”.
“These closures will change the face of our towns, and the impact will be seen on our main streets, felt by family businesses and I am gravely worried about the impact this will have locally,” he said.
Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard described West Cork as badly hit by the announcement, with the closure of the Dunmanway and Bantry branches.
"Dunmanway is not a tourist town, it is a business town," he said.
"It is a real shame."
He continued: "
Meanwhile, East Cork Labour Party TD Seán Sherlock said the closure of branches in Mitchelstown, Kanturk, Cobh and Youghal “is akin to ripping the commercial heart out of Provincial Ireland”.
The closure of the Mitchelstown branch has been branded a “hammer blow” for the town and its hinterland by Fianna Fail councillor Frank O’Flynn.
He said: “It is a very poor decision. We are encouraging people to stay local during the Covid pandemic. And people in rural Ireland have poor broadband facilities for online banking.”
Gavin Kelly stressed that Bank of Ireland is committed to Cork.
“We know changes like this can cause concern for some customers. We’re not making these changes immediately – no branches will close in the next six months. That ensures that the An Post partnership is up and running before any branches close.
“We are committed to Cork and these changes will allow us invest in our other branches in the county as well as digital services.”