Fears that AIB’s plans to go cashless in local branches are only paused

August 4th, 2022 5:45 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

West Cork TD Michael Collins, far right, with TDs Danny Healy Rae and Mattie McGrath during their sit-in at AIB last week.

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THE fall-out from the now-shelved plans by AIB to make three of their West Cork branches cashless and remove their ATMs continues to reverberate, despite the bank’s sudden climbdown last Friday.

There are still fears that the fight to save the cash branches in Kinsale, Dunmanway and Castletownbere is far from over and is just paused for now.

Standing orders were suspended at a meeting of Cork County Council this week as furious councillors slammed the bank for coming up with this ‘ludicrous’ decision and said it showed it was ‘abandoning’ its customers.

They were also highly critical of department officials who were told of the impending move four days before the announcement was made, but the government didn’t act.

The bank had announced that, from October 21st, it would no longer have notes, coins, cheques, foreign exchanges or bank drafts at branches in Kinsale, Dunmanway and Castletownbere. However, due to huge public outcry and political pressure, it reversed its decision.

Independent TD Michael Collins, who participated in a sit-in at the bank’s HQ in Dublin last Friday, along with colleagues from the Rural Independents group, said it was ‘people power’ that brought about this mind-change with AIB, as there was huge anger the length and breadth of West Cork. He also warned the public to remain vigilant of more government attacks on rural Ireland.

‘I was delighted to be the straw that broke the camel’s back on Friday last,’ he said but he also warned the public to remain vigilant of what he called ‘more government attacks on rural Ireland’ – and added that they ‘must be met with the same resistance’.

Cork South West Social Democrats TD Deputy Holly Cairns said the episode highlighted how easily services can be withdrawn from rural areas and said we are witnessing a ‘hollowing-out’ of towns and villages.

Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan said the fight to ensure the bank maintains services to its customers is not over. Meanwhile, at this week’s Council meeting, Cllr Karen Coakley (FG) said it was ‘beyond scandalous’ what the bank had intended to do, and said small businesses needed supports now more than ever.

‘The country was almost held to ransom and I fear it will happen, so we need a re-assessment and a guarantee that it won’t happen again,’ said Cllr Coakley.

County mayor Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) – brother of TD Michael – asked if department officials were ‘asleep at the wheel’ as they knew four days before AIB made the plans public.  He called for an urgent letter to be sent to the Minister and the Department of Finance calling for an explanation as to why this happened.

Cllr John O’Sullivan (FG) said it was a ‘bolt out of the blue’  and ‘shocked the country’ and suggested that they should also write to the Central Bank too.

He added that it is imperative that elected public representatives should sit on the boards of banks.

‘If board members have no interaction or responsibility with the public, then they cannot understand what the public want,’ said Cllr O’Sullivan.

Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) described the bank’s plans as ‘reckless’ and ‘scary’ and said the government needs to wake up.

He said  a blended form of banking is needed for the future.

‘People were distraught with these plans and many felt that their money was being taken from them to another town. AIB abandoned their customers and the government abandoned rural communities,’ said Declan Hurley, who warned that the decision is only paused for now and it could happen again.

Cllr Deirdre Kelly (Ind) said a cashless society needs forward planning, and pointed out that the customers and businesses in Dunmanway were expected to travel to Clonakilty to access bank services, following the closure of the Bank of Ireland branch there last year.

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