Ulster Bank looks set to quit the Irish market after 160 years

The board of NatWest is to meet on Thursday evening to discuss a proposal to wind down Ulster Bank's operations here
Ulster Bank looks set to quit the Irish market after 160 years

The move is likely to result in the break-up of the lender's €20.5bn loan book, prompting fears that some of these could be sold to vulture funds. Picture: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

Thousands of banking jobs may be in jeopardy as Ulster Bank's presence in Ireland looks set to come to an end after more than 160 years.

Concerns had been raised on several occasions by TDs and unions about the future of the bank's operations in Ireland, including some 2,800 staff in the Republic and a further 600 in Northern Ireland.

The board of NatWest is to meet on Thursday evening to discuss a proposal to wind down Ulster Bank's operations here.

On Friday morning, the UK group, formerly known as the Royal Bank of Scotland, is to report its annual results, at an official announcement is likely to be made.

However, it is not yet clear if the discussions will be completed by this evening ahead of that announcement, or whether there could be a further delay in process.

The move is likely to result in the break-up of the lender's €20.5bn loan book, prompting fears that some of these could be sold to vulture funds.

The Oireachtas finance committee said that in the absence of Ulster engaging, it may consider recommending legislation against the bank selling loans to vulture funds and to ensure only AIB, Bank of Ireland, or another mainstream lender would benefit “notwithstanding the competition issues that might arise as a result”.

Committee chair John McGuinness had previously told the Irish Examiner the potential winding down of Ulster Bank had put legislators and regulators between “a rock and a hard place” because selling loans to AIB and Bank of Ireland would only worsen concerns about the limited competition in banking in Ireland. 

However, he said it was important that any loans would not end up in the hands of vulture funds.

He said Ulster Bank had the chance to appear before the finance committee next week.

In a statement issued late last night, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) urged the bank not to sell its loan books to a vulture fund.

An estimated 10,000 farmers have borrowings with Ulster Bank and IFA President Tim Cullinan urged the bank not to leave them 'completely high and dry'. 

A further 10,000 farmers rely on the bank for current account services, he added.

"Ulster Bank must make a commitment that it will not to sell its loan book to a vulture fund that would leave these farmers completely high and dry. The Government must intervene and prevent this from happening," Mr Cullinan said.

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