The First Minister will hold talks with trade unions and officials from Bank of Ireland at Stormont next Monday in the wake of their plans to close eight branches in the North including one in Fermanagh.
The Belleek branch is among those earmarked for closure which would leave hundreds of customers with accounts in the area facing a 50 mile return trip to Enniskillen to visit their nearest bank.
Bank of Ireland says the volume of business in the branches that are to close is “insufficient to sustain them in the long term”. The eight branches will close on a phased basis starting in the late autumn of this year.
Ahead of her meeting with the bank’s Regional Director, Sean Sheehan and Adrian Olsen, Managing Director, Ms Foster told the Herald she had grave concerns about the proposal: “The planned closure of the Bank of Ireland in Belleek has caused huge frustration to many local people and business owners. I will be meeting with the senior management of the Bank next week to outline the concerns of local people. I fully back the campaign to retain the bank and I trust that a favourable resolution can be reached.”
It is understood that a public meeting could be held in the relation to the planned closure if next week’s meeting is unsuccessful.
Sinn Fein Councillor for Erne North, John Feely will also hold discussions this week with Mr Sheehan when he will urge him to reverse the decision.
Cllr Feely says the bank is a vital service to the community serving both local people and businesses.
“I have asked Bank of Ireland to take account of Belleek’s unique set of circumstances and reverse the decision it has made. Some of these include its distance from other banks, the awful broadband and mobile coverage in the rural areas around west Fermanagh, and the dispersed rural population of the area that the Belleek branch serves.
“As a company that is continuing to make healthy profits I explained that Bank of Ireland should have a moral conscience towards its loyal customers,” he added.
The meetings come after the bank announced on Friday that it made pre-tax profits of €557m for the first half of 2016.
The Financial Services Union (FSU) have said that in light of that performance, which reflects the loyalty and motivation of staff and customers, the bank should reconsider its retail strategy.
The FSU’s General Secretary, Larry Broderick, said: “Given these significant profits the Bank needs to revisit its plans to close over 20% of its branches in Northern Ireland. These are vital services which are being withdrawn from local communities. The Bank must listen to local customers and political representatives given its plans to close its branch in Belleek. We ask Bank of Ireland to engage with the Union to review its plans and consider alternatives.”
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