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Campaign to save local bank falls on deaf ears

Bank of Ireland, Belleek    RMG08

Bank of Ireland, Belleek RMG08

BANK of Ireland has been accused of ignoring the wishes of the people of Belleek with the confirmed closure of the village’s last remaining bank. The branch will close at the end of next March, BOI confirmed this week.
The bank’s decision to proceed with their plan comes despite 7,500 people signing a petition opposing the move and a week of daily protests supported by local MLAs and councillors from both Fermanagh and nearby Co Donegal.
The bank, with hundreds of customers on both sides of the border, is one of eight across the North shutting its doors. Hundreds of customers with accounts in Belleek now face a 50 mile return trip to Enniskillen to visit their nearest bank.
In a letter sent to Bridie Gormley of the Belleek Chamber of Commerce this week, NI Regional Director Sean Sheehan said:
“Since making our announcement on July 20, we have met, listened and responded to a number of key stakeholders, including yourself on behalf of the Belleek Chamber of Commerce, regarding the closure of Belleek branch. We have also consulted with our staff and their representatives, and are now starting to implement our closure plans and issue customer communications.”
He added: “As a result of our stakeholder engagement, we are committed to communicating with Belleek customers regarding the closure of their branch, and will work with them to ensure we can continue to support their personal and business banking needs.”
BOI says relationship managers will be available to meet customers face to face when required and that there will be the option to make cash and cheque lodgements, cash withdrawals and balance enquiries via the local Post Office.      
“Bank of Ireland staff will also be on hand to help customers through this change and answer any specific questions they may have,” Mr Sheehan added.
Ms Gormley told the Herald that the bank had shown “total disrespect and disregard” for the people of Belleek by ignoring their petition against the plan.
“Bank of Ireland have refused to listen to the 7,500 people who signed our petition and are pushing forward with their decision to close the bank.
“ The opinions of local people were not taken into account and we have had no part in this decision which was already taken and has now been forced upon us.
“While we will continue to fight it seems the decision has now been made and it is a hugely disappointing and short-sighted move,” Ms Gormley said.
The bank’s decision to press on with the closure of the Belleek branch has been widely condemned by local politicians. The First Minister Arlene Foster, who was among the 7,500 signatories opposing the move, told the Herald:
“The continued stance of the Bank of Ireland will come as a bitter disappointment to both their customers and the entire community of Belleek. Local people have led a fantastic campaign to date and I pay tribute to their passion and commitment for this cause.”
Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott highlighted his bitter disappointment with the decision.
“The last remaining bank in Belleek was a major part of the local community with many people from the area carrying out the banking business there. Moreover, local businesses and enterprises in the Belleek and North Fermanagh relied on the local banking facilities, and this decision could potentially harm the local economy, with possibly fewer people going into Belleek village on a regular basis.”
His MLA party colleague Rosemary Barton added: “It is very disappointing that the Bank of Ireland has chosen to ignore the overwhelming response of the people of Belleek and surrounding area who protested against the decision of the bank. These people have no choice but to drive an all-round 60 miles to do business with a bank, which is unacceptable.”
SDLP Councillor John Coyle said that the community in Belleek was outraged that once again banks were acting with impunity to the detriment of local people.
He said: “I am absolutely livid that despite an intense campaign to retain banking services in Belleek to support an isolated rural community, Bank of Ireland has decided to forge ahead with its plan to abandon people here. It’s an absolute disgrace and people are right to be angry.
“Rural communities have had to live with services being stripped away one after another. The least the bank can do now is gift the building to the Credit Union or another institution, allowing us to maintain some semblance of service for the local community.”
Sinn Fein’s Cllr John Feely said he was deeply frustrated by Bank of Ireland’s unwillingness to listen to the concerns of the community of Belleek, and the wider area.
“There is something wrong with society when a bank can say that the profits they are making aren’t high enough and, that instead of trying to increase the profits, the easy option is to close the branch,” he added. 


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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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