'A nightmare scenario': Bank closures leave Cork towns reeling

Bank of Ireland is to close 88 branches in the Republic, with nine of those in Co Cork. Residents say it is just the latest ‘kick in the teeth’ for rural economies, John Bohane reports
'A nightmare scenario': Bank closures leave Cork towns reeling

“There is a lot of disappointment and annoyance in both Kanturk and Millstreet. It is a big blow for the local area. The closest Bank of Ireland for people now is either Killarney, which is 45 minutes away, or Mallow, which is 20 minutes away,” said Donal Aherne, of the Kanturk Chamber of Commerce.

THERE was shock and anger in many Cork communities at the announcement that Bank of Ireland is to close nine branches in both the city and county.

The bank will reduce its branch network in the Republic by 88, and by 103 across the island, following a deal to offer customers access to banking services at more than 900 An Post post offices.

The Cork branches to close this September are Cork Institute of Technology, Glanmire, Bantry, Cobh, Dunmanway, Kanturk, Millstreet, Mitchelstown, and Youghal.

The closure of the branches in Bantry and Dunmanway will cause upheaval for a large number of people over a vast hinterland. They will have no local access to a bank.

The nearest Bank of Ireland to customers in Dunmanway will be in Clonakilty, which is 24km away. Chair of the Dunmanway Chamber of Commerce, Helen O’Reilly, said the news was “devastating” for the local community.

“It is very bad news, especially for a rural town which is struggling anyway, at the moment. It is a huge setback,” Ms O’Reilly said. “Pre-Covid-19, rural towns were struggling and now this is a massive blow. There has been a lot of sadness and anger expressed by locals in recent days, following the decision.”

Ms O’Reilly said this will lead to more economic activity in other, neighbouring towns, and that’s a “nightmare scenario” for Dunmanway business owners.

“This decision will drive people to other towns, unfortunately, which is a nightmare scenario,” Ms O’Reilly said. “People will now leave more money in other towns, perhaps, rather than their own native town, which is a very scary thought. Banks being open brought footfall to the town. The business people are so disappointed. I feel so sorry for the staff members. They will also be a loss to the town, in terms of economic activity. It all makes a big difference.”

Ms O’Reilly said that the local community is resilient and that the chamber of commerce will look at all available solutions.

“We will look at all options,” Ms O’Reilly said. “We will battle on. Dunmanway is a great town. It is so central and accessible for lots of places.

“Industries have left the town and we don’t feel there has been enough investment to entice replacement industries. There is a great community spirit here, however. Dunmanway always supports its own.”

Local Fianna Fáil councillor, Deirdre Kelly, said she had received assurances in recent months that the Dunmanway branch was not in danger.

“I contacted the banks some months ago and we were assured that things were OK, so this news was a big shock,” Ms Kelly said. “There was no communication. The big issue, now, is if you travel from Bandon to Castletownbere, there is no Bank of Ireland branch on that route.

“It will be particularly tough on elderly people who don’t want to go online. It just feels like rural Ireland is being hit again.”

Ms Kelly said: “It is a huge blow to the community and business owners. It will increase the amount of money people will keep in their houses, as opposed to lodging, which is another worry. Dunmanway is central enough to have a Covid facility, but we are not central enough to keep a banking facility.

“Hopefully, there is scope to claw back something. The staff are shocked. The plug has been pulled big time on them, which is so sad,” she said.

The picturesque market town of Bantry will also lose its branch. Diarmuid Murphy, chairman of the Bantry Business Association, said it is the latest “kick in the teeth” for the West Cork town.

“We spent a number of years bailing the banks out and when it comes to the crunch, they have dropped us in it,” Mr Murphy said. “The bank brings people to town and everyone benefits from that. To be getting this news now, when the local people have been through so much, is very tough.

“There have been issues with flooding in recent months and dealing with Covid-19. People are just about surviving. The footfall will be greatly diminished, which is bad news.”

Mr Murphy, who runs a restaurant in Bantry, said business people are “stretched”.

“This decision will have an impact on me. Bantry is a busy town, but we heavily rely on tourists,” Mr Murphy said. “Annual festivals won’t be held again this summer and people are stretched. A keystone business closing up is very demoralising. We will fight it as best we can.”

Independent councillor Danny Collins said the decision will have a “big impact” on people’s daily lives.

“It is a sad day for the local community, residents, and business owners,” Mr Collins said. “We are taking into account Beara, Sheep’s Head, and the Mizen Peninsula. That is a large area of people who will be affected. It will have a big impact on people’s lives. It is not good to see a door closing in any town.”

Mr Collins said the hearts of local communities are being “ripped away” constantly

“This is another blow for rural Ireland,” Mr Collins said. 

“Banks have very short memories: The people bailed out the banks and this is the way they are treated in return, which is very disrespectful. The hearts of communities are being ripped apart.

“The Government owns 14% of the Bank of Ireland, so the Government should think about intervening.

“We, as public representatives, are appealing for them to consider opening Bantry and Dunmanway on a part-time and rotating basis. We will keep up the fight,” he said.

Tim Lombard, Fine Gael senator, said West Cork was badly hit by the recent announcement. “Dunmanway is not a tourist town: It is a business town,” Mr Lombard said.

Danny Collins: “This is another blow for rural Ireland. Banks have very short memories. The people bailed out the banks and this is the way they are treated in return, which is very disrespectful.”	Picture: Dan Linehan
Danny Collins: “This is another blow for rural Ireland. Banks have very short memories. The people bailed out the banks and this is the way they are treated in return, which is very disrespectful.” Picture: Dan Linehan

“It is a real shame. Bantry’s nearest Bank of Ireland branch now will be in Skibbereen or Kenmare. That has left an area which, in geographical terms, is almost as big as a county without a Bank of Ireland banking branch.”

Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan is seeking clarity from Paschal Donohoe, the finance minister, as to whether the Government can intervene on the basis of its 14% share in the Bank of Ireland.

“I will be seeking clarity from Minister Donohoe and seeking a review of the bank’s decision,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“It is near-sighted to remove community bank facilities at a time when we are moving in and out of travel restrictions. I am also concerned about the additional burden to the elderly and disabled customers,” he said.

Communities in North Cork also fell victim, with both the Kanturk and Millstreet branches to close.

This has prompted huge disappointment, said Donal Aherne, of Kanturk Printers and a member of the Kanturk Chamber of Commerce.

“There is a lot of disappointment and annoyance in both Kanturk and Millstreet,” Mr Aherne said. “It is a big blow for the local area. The closest Bank of Ireland for people now is either Killarney, which is 45 minutes away, or Mallow, which is 20 minutes away,” he said.

“There is a lot of disappointment and annoyance in both Kanturk and Millstreet,” Mr Aherne said.

Mr Aherne said the decision is a “disaster” for all business owners in the Duhallow region.

“The day-to-day running of any business requires a bank in a town,” Mr Aherne said. “Kanturk is progressing a lot, with increased housing and more shops. This is an awful kick in the teeth.

“The individual is making the effort and getting the loans, but the banks aren’t following their lead, unfortunately.

“They are constantly closing the doors on rural Ireland. There is nothing being done to help our communities, unfortunately. This decision will impact massively on rural towns and villages,” he said.

Mr Aherne and his colleagues in the Kanturk Chamber of Commerce will join forces with their local political representatives in a bid to reverse the decision.

“We will rally around and fight this,” Mr Aherne said. “We will present our case with the help of our local representatives. We will approach the Bank of Ireland and propose keeping one branch open in the Duhallow area to provide a service for the local people. All we want is the banks to row in and be a support to everyone in the community.”

Bernard Moynihan, Fianna Fáil councillor, said he has written to Michael McGrath, the public expenditure and reform minister, and to Sean Fleming, the junior minister, suggesting the local bank buildings be made available to An Post.

“Those buildings should be given to the local communities,” Mr Moynihan said. “An Post should be given these buildings at a reduced rate, because their service needs to be enhanced.

“I am asking for an intervention at government level, between senior ministers and An Post, to secure the buildings.”

Mr Moynihan said the closure decision was a death blow for rural communities.

“People are devastated. They see it as another nail in the coffin. The staff are also sad and angry. The levels of communication were poor and the staff should have been notified first,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan has expressed his shock at the Bank of Ireland’s decision to leave the Duhallow region.

“It is a very sad time for the staff affected by these closures, and also for the loyal customers in this area,” Mr Moynihan said. “This will have a serious impact on the communities of Kanturk and Millstreet.

“The Bank of Ireland has shown no respect for their many customers in the Duhallow region with this decision.”

“I have contacted Bank of Ireland to express my opposition to their decisions and to their very poor treatment of their customers,” Mr Moynihan said. “This is a huge blow to the entire region and further removes vital services from the reach of many people.”

Ciarán McCarthy, chair of the Social Democrats’ Cork North West branch, said the closures would impact communities. “These closures are more bad news in rural areas, where closures of local branches have a far-reaching impact,” Mr McCarthy said.

“The decision shows no consideration for vulnerable and quickly abandoned customers. It will also impact local employment in our communities.”

Branches in Cobh, Youghal, and Mitchelstown are also scheduled to close, which has angered locals, said Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley. “For our towns and communities to thrive, we need our local branches to stay open. Keeping our local branches in Cobh, Youghal, and Mitchelstown open is crucial for our communities. There is an important role for the Government here. As a key shareholder in Bank of Ireland, the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, needs to stand up for local communities facing the closure of their bank branches.”

Bank of Ireland said the majority of the branches that are closing are self-service and do not have counter staff.

In a statement released to The Echo, the bank said: “Colleagues will be offered the option to relocate to alternative branches, apply for alternative roles within the bank, transfer to our direct team (phone and online customer support), or apply for our voluntary redundancy scheme, if they choose to do so.

“Compulsory redundancy plays no part in the announcement.

“In relation to the branches, we own seven branches across the county. There will be no changes to branches until September onwards. In the future, they will be put on the market for sale.”

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