HISTORIC The Ulster Bank in Westport is housed in an iconic building on the Mall which first opened in 1875.
ULSTER Bank’s exit from the State and, in the case of Mayo, its five branches in towns across the county is ‘a devastating blow that will be felt acutely by workers’ and the communities it has served for over 160 years.
That is the view of Sinn Féin Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh who said that last Friday’s announcement was ‘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,” Ms Conway-Walsh said.
“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,” she urged.
Whilst welcoming the fact that the withdrawal is not immediate and, moreover, that it has been in talks with AIB and Permanent TSB, she stressed this should not result in a duopoly with concerns about the competitiveness in the market.
“Its 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. However, we must ensure that this withdrawal does not result in a virtual duopoly in the SME market, for example,” she continued.
She cited the fact that the sale of ‘a large part of Ulster Bank’s loan book to AIB would inevitably raise concerns among competition authorities’. She also stressed that no part of its loan book should be sold off to vulture funds ‘who have no long-term interest in Ireland or Irish homeowners’.
“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,” Ms Conway-Walsh added.
She echoed a call by Sinn Féin’s Finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, for Government to establish a Future of Banking Forum ‘to assess the current state of the Irish banking market and its longterm future’.
“The government must now take a coordinated approach to minimise the damage caused by Ulster Bank’s withdrawal,” she added.
Meanwhile, Kevin Johnson, the CEO of the Credit Union Development Association (CUDA) has said: “Many customers will switch to local Credit Unions following Ulster Bank’s departure rather than go to two big banks.”
He said that the vast majority of Credit Union branches now offer ‘a range of personal loans’ as well as ‘current accounts, business lending, mortgages, Agri-loans, home, life and travel insurance’.