Ulster Bank’s announcement this morning that it is exiting its operations in the State is a devastating blow that will be felt acutely by workers in it five branches in Mayo and the towns and surrounding areas affected.
Today’s announcement is a hammer blow for workers, communities, mortgage holders and small businesses. There are five Ulster Bank Branches in Mayo with one of those in my home town of Belmullet. This news is being keenly felt here and across the county. Ulster Bank has been a significant employer here and my thoughts are with the workers and their families and the uncertainty they must be feeling.
The full rights of the employees must be protected.
Mortgage holders with Ulster Bank should not make any rushed decisions at this uncertain time. Those with tracker mortgages in particular should protect their rights by continuing with their current arrangements.
Ulster Bank has played a key role in our communities for more than 160 years, providing jobs to 2,800 people across the State, with 88 branches and over one million customers.
It’s exit from the market will create great uncertainty and anxiety for staff and for customers, and also poses a serious risk to our banking sector.
I welcome the fact that this withdrawal is not immediate, and that Ulster Bank has been in discussions with AIB and Permanent TSB.
However, we must ensure that this withdrawal does not result in a virtual duopoly in the SME market, for example.
It is clear that the sale of a large part of Ulster Bank’s loan book to AIB would inevitably raise concerns among competition authorities.
This is an opportunity to create a third force in our banking sector to compete against what would otherwise be a highly concentrated market; with the risk of higher interest rates and weaker credit availability that this could involve.
The preference of Ulster Bank for discussions of sale with parties that can provide full banking services is welcome. This should be done with the aim of retaining the jobs, experience and expertise of Ulster Bank staff, who have been disrespected throughout this entire process.
We should not allow any part of its mortgage loan book to be sold off to vulture funds, who have no long-term interest in Ireland or Irish homeowners.