Bank of Ireland to shut eight branches across Northern Ireland
BANK of Ireland is downgrading its branch network across the north with plans to shut eight outlets.
They include the bank's Belfast City Hall branch at Donegall Square South and others at Castlereagh, Draperstown, Antrim, Belleek, Castlederg, Newtownards and Maghera.
In the case of Belleek, Bank of Ireland is the last remaining bank in the village.
It said the closures, which will be phased in from this autumn, were necessary to ensure the network remained "efficient and sustainable".
The Financial Services Union (FSU) said the plans could make as many as 54 people redundant.
Bank of Ireland - in keeping with other banks that have reduced branch numbers in recent years - said the closures were partly a result of a growing number of people opting to use online services.
The programme of closures will leave the bank with 28 branches in Northern Ireland.
It will also retain the premises at Donegall Square South for conversion into its first 'Enterprise Lounge'.
This will offer entrepreneurs and business start-ups free facilities and services.
Bank of Ireland said staff at the affected outlets could transfer, redeploy or relocate to other roles within the bank or apply for voluntary redundancy.
It said branch customers would be informed of exact closing dates 60 days beforehand.
Sean Sheehan from the bank said: "The decision to close branches is not taken lightly, and we understand that it will be disappointing for those customers who use them.
“A key priority will be to ensure customers understand the alternative arrangements available, and to maintain continuity of customer service.”
“We are responding to the continuing shift in customer behaviour towards increased use of digital and online channels, and the changes announced today will put us in the best position to continue to support our customers’ changing needs and grow our business in the future.”
FSU general secretary Larry Broderick said Bank of Ireland's decision was "not only regrettable, but irresponsible given the impact it will have on customers and staff".
“Given that Bank of Ireland is expected to announce significant profits at the end of the month, this announcement is a kick in the teeth for both customers and staff in Northern Ireland who supported the bank during the financial crisis," he said.
“At a time when the union is discussing with the bank the impact of existing workloads on both staff and customers, this announcement is a retrograde step which is more focussed on cost cutting and enhancing profits rather than customers and staff.”
Mr Broderick said the union planned to commence negotiations tomorrow.
“The FSU will be challenging the bank’s plans and, although the bank has confirmed that all redundancies will be voluntary, the union calls on politicians to support its campaign to challenge this decision in the interest of all stakeholders and the wider Northern Ireland economy," he added.
Wilfred Mitchell, policy chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the north said the closures were a "significant blow to the local economy".
"In surveys, FSB members put a high value on the availability of the branch network for day to day banking, and on face to face contact to sustain effective relationships," he said.
"This closure programme, which has a particularly unwelcome rural focus, follows earlier closures in 2013 that will do nothing to inspire business confidence.”
Sinn Fein councillor for Erne North John Feely described the Belleek closure as "shocking".
"I regularly visit the Belleek branch and it is always busy. I have never been at the branch without there being a number of people there," he said.
"So the excuse by Bank of Ireland appears to be empty and unbelievable."
Bank of Ireland said its branch network in the Republic was not affected by the announcement.