Rural areas to suffer as banks pull the shutters

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

Rural communities ‘are a name, not a number’ and the closure of rural bank branches is “unfair and unworkable” is the response to the news that Tipperary is to lose access to 11 main street bank branches in the coming months.

The move by both AIB and Permanent TSB has been greeted with disappointment and concerns that there may be a knock-on affect on small businesses in Clogheen and Killenaule.

Fears have also been raised for elderly people, who may not be able to travel to bank branches further away, and who just don’t use internet banking.

Busy communities around South Tipp have reacted with shock to the news that branches of the AIB is to close in Clogheen and Killenaule, and that the Permanent TSB branch is to close in Tipperary Town. Branches along the county borders of Limerick and Kilkenny will also be lost to Tipperary customers.

“It’s very disappointing, I’m very worried about elderly people,” Cllr John Fahey said of the closure of his local AIB branch in Killenaule, and that in nearby Urlingford. His thoughts were echoed by Clogheen area councillor, Marie Murphy, who added: “It’s not just the bank closure it’s the knock-on affects - people who would come in to bank would go to the butcher, the fruit and veg shop. That’s where there will be an affect.”

Both councillors agreed that people will now just go to the closer big towns, Thurles and Kilkenny for the Killenaule customers, and Cahir for the Clogheen customers, to bank and then pick up the daily paper, or other groceries.

Cllr Fahey pointed out that for people in the Killenaule area they will also be affected by the closure of the Urlingford AIB branch.

In recent years both banks opened three days a week.

Cllr Fahey said he hopes An Post will now offer as many AIB services as possible, and encouraged people to avail of them.

The buildings to be vacated in both villages are owned by the bank, and Cllr Murphy said “the building in Clogheen is a lovely building, I hope they maintain it and not let it become run-down and derelict.”

“It’s a sad day. Internet banking is the way of the future, but not for older people,” Cllr Murphy said. “The personal touch will be gone, the bank staff in Clogheen knew everybody.” Cllr Fahey paid tribute to the Killenaule staff, saying they gave a great service.

In both cases the staff will be transferred to other bank branches.

“In Clogheen you were a name and not a number, hopefully the powers that be will see sense before October and keep this branch open,” was the feeling of one local person this week.

Mayor of Tipperary Town, Ruaridhri Devitt, said the closure of the local Permanent TSB bank would certainly be a loss to the people of the town. Many people in Tipperary have their mortgage with the bank, he said, including him. The nearest branch now will be Clonmel. “It’s important for someone to be able to walk into a bank and talk to a bank manager, now more than ever,” he said.

“This closure is coming on top of others that come all the time. They will have an affect. Unfortunately every town in the country is going through the same thing.”

There has also been a strong reaction to the closures from the farming community.

The Tipp farmer who is Deputy President of ICMSA said that a great deal of anxiety will now develop in rural districts and towns where banks have been earmarked for closure. Pat McCormack, who farms at Greenane near Lisheen, said it was now becoming apparent that there will be large swathes of the country that will be without any physical banking presence. Expecting people to do without any form of walk-in banking facilities was both unfair and unworkable, he said.

“AIB will close five branches in Tipperary and two more in East Limerick that would both have large numbers of Tipp customers, while Permanent TSB closing their branches in Thurles, Tipperary Town and Roscrea. We are not naïve about the need to restore our banking system to stability and then, hopefully, profitability. But that restoration cannot be at the expense of a workable and functioning bank network that services all the people of the country equally. We must seriously question a situation where a county like Tipperary will lose a total of eight bank branches over an area that will hugely inconvenience rural customers and may, in many cases, mean that older and more immobile customers will simply cease travelling to banks with the serious implications for their security that entails”, said Mr McCormack, who added that AIB’s tie-up with An Post would not cover the gaps in service opened by the mass closure of so many branches.

“This looks a little like too many other so-called reforms where garda stations, rural school, government and local authority, state agencies - and ironically, post offices themselves – are being closed in the name of cost-savings, in a manner that effectively abandons their affected rural customers and users,” concluded Mr McCormack.

Responding to the announcement of branch closures by AIB, IFA President John Bryan said, “The AIB branch closures, coming in the wake of recent similar announcements by Permanent TSB and NIB, will cause concern among customers. It is critical that the bank moves to reassure its farmer customers that a personal banking service will be maintained.  A strong working relationship between the farmer and his bank is an important part of any viable farm business. We have seen in recent weeks the continuing need for a responsive banking system that is aware of the challenges of the farming sector in 2012, arising from the difficult weather conditions and soaring input costs.”

Deputy Michael Lowry described the impending closure of AIB and Permanent TSB branches in Tipperary as hugely disappointing for the towns and communities involved and a major loss of service for users. Deputy Lowry said the loss of these branches is hugely regrettable and very frustrating for customers of the banks, the public generally and ultimately a very sad day for rural Ireland.

“The closure of these branches marks the loss of yet another vital service from our rural towns and villages. The value of the services provided by these local banks cannot be underestimated. They are of the utmost importance for business and individuals in the town and are particularly useful for those who do not have the facilities to travel to larger towns. They are a focal point in our communities and a pivotal part of rural life. Branch banking still serves a role in rural towns and should not be dispensed of completely. Despite the increased use of internet banking customers still like and feel reassured by the physical presence of a branch in their area and feel reassured that they can go to their local town and speak to someone should something go wrong.”

The Permanent TSB branches to close will be in Tipperary Town, Thurles and Roscrea. The AIB branches to close will be in Clogheen, Killenaule, Newport, Borrisokane and Templemore. On the borders of the county branches of AIB are to close in Urlingford, in county Kilkenny, and in county Limerick the branch in Doon.