The Bank of Ireland building in Castlepollard.

Rural Ireland is ‘being dismantled’

The decision by Bank of Ireland of Ireland to close its branches in Kinnegad and Castlepollard has been described as “cynical”, “short- sighted” and “part of the systematic dismantling of rural Ireland”.

Castlepollard and Kinnegad will be left without banks later this year when Bank of Ireland closes its branches in both towns.

The closures are part of BoI’s transition to digital banking, a process it says has been accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In total, 88 of the bank’s 257 branches in the Republic of Ireland, including those in Moate and AIT, are to close in a process beginning this September.

Although customers will be able to avail of services in post offices following a new partnership between BoI and An Post, the news of the closures in Kinnegad and Castlepollard, which will leave the north and the east of the county without a bank, has been criticised by local politicians.

Minster of State Robert Troy said that the announcement is “hugely disappointing for the people and business communities of Castlepollard and Kinnegad”.

“In the case of Castlepollard, this is the second such closure in a short number of years following Ulster Bank’s withdrawal in 2013 and is a real blow to the people and business community of north Westmeath.

“In relation to Kinnegad, the rationale for this closure is hard to figure out. This is one of the fastest growing residential towns in the midlands and it is quite clear that there will be continued growth in Kinnegad for many years to come.

“The decision by Bank of Ireland to close this branch is, in my view, extremely short-sighted and in no way reflects the huge potential for growth that exists in Kinnegad”.

His fellow Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, said that he was “very disappointed” to hear the news of the closures and has requested a meeting with the CEO of the bank to discuss how customers “will be supported through the new venture with An Post”.

“I am particularly concerned about how older customers who do not use online banking will be supported – many have been customers of Bank of Ireland all their lives, paying fees for decades.

“We will have to see how the new service with An Post is managed, so I welcome that there will be no closures in the next six months.”

Senator Shane Cassells (FF) said that the closure is a “crippling blow”. continued on page 11

He also noted that the bank’s new partnership with An Post “is an admission that people require branch services and that all banking cannot not be done online”.

“The cloak of Covid has been used to cynically implement a plan that has been on the boil for quite some time,” said Senator Cassells.

“To close the branch in Castlepollard is a physical withdrawal from rural Ireland and that is the statement the bank is making by this action and one they can’t hide from.

“No amount of fancy PR spin can dress their despicable actions up in any other way. The closure of a bank in a small town is a crippling blow.

“Small businesses also require the services of their local branch and now more than ever because of the stress they are under.”

North Westmeath county councillor Paddy Hill said that the news about the closure of the bank in Castlepollard is a further blow for the town following the announcement last week that the Maple Court Nursing Home is closing with the loss of 20 jobs (see page 5).

“It is bad news for the older generation who may not be familiar with online banking services. They are the people I feel sorry for, people who are used to going into the bank and meeting somebody.

“Nobody wants to see a closure of a bank in any area. Even if only a few people a day go into it they are people who are coming into the town and leaving a bit of money behind them. It is bad news.”

Cllr Denis Leonard said that the closure of the bank is part of the “systematic dismantling of rural Ireland”.

“They started with garda stations. Then it was local shops, you have to go to a large town now to go to a supermarket. It continued with primary schools, a lot of the smaller schools in rural Ireland had to close and in recent years it has been banking.

“This announcement comes on the back of the Ulster Bank announcement. They are taking some of the most important towns in Westmeath – Kinnegad, Castlepollard and Moate – and pulling the branches out of them.

“This idea that everyone is going to digital, well, an awful lot of people still like the personal touch of going into their bank branch and getting the smile, or understanding or confidence that their issue is being dealt with,” he said.

Cllr Leonard also noted that at a time when people are being encouraged to limit their car usage for environmental reasons, rural dwellers are being forced into larger towns due to a reduction in services.

“We are taking services, like banks, out of rural areas. We are putting them into large towns and choking up those large towns by everyone having to go into them. I thought the idea with combating climate change was to have as many services as possible available locally for people to stop unnecessary car journeys.

“If you take the likes of Kinnegad, the bus services are limited and there is no train. People who want to bank in a branch will get into their cars and drive the 24-mile round trip to Mullingar.

“Having the service in the town, even if it was only four days a week, allowed businesses and people to bank locally. There are a large number of businesses in the hinterland of Kinnegad. I think when they look at towns like Kinnegad they don’t look at the hinterland.

“Anyone who ever walked in to the bank in Kinnegad would have been in quite a large queue. During Covid you could see people lining down the street because there were only two allowed in the bank. To say that people weren’t using the service is shameful, absolutely shameful.”