I have been concerned that the banks just don’t understand the impact that branch closures have on local communities. I am also very unsatisfied with their answers so far regarding the measures they will put in place for customers left with no local branch.
There needs to be a focus on the realities for customers when a branch closes. For many people, switching to another branch miles away is not an option. As we have seen in the last few weeks, transport in and out of rural areas can no longer be taken for granted. Cuts to many rural bus routes over recent years have left vast areas virtually cut off from accessing larger towns and villages. Therefore, it is not an option for many Ulster Bank customers in Ballyhaunis to simply move their accounts to Castlebar branch.
The branch closure in Ballyhaunis will impact on personal customers and businesses alike. There are many businesses dealing in cash who rely on the branch on a daily basis. The option of online banking clearly does not apply here. I want to get answers to problems such as this which the banks have simply refused to address so far.
I have also written directly to Ulster Bank to request that those proposing the closure meet with the local Ballyhaunis group to hear their concerns. This is a decision that will not only have a negative impact on Ulster Bank customers but on the footfall in the whole town.
A rural-focused session of the Finance Committee will at least start a process of putting the focus back on rural dwellers when these decisions are taken. I would hope that such an approach would be taken across government departments when other services are withdrawn or cut back. Government and businesses who have relied on public funding must consult with people living in the areas affected by their political and business decisions.