Ahern clarifies ATM fee comments

JUSTICE MINISTER Dermot Ahern attempted to clarify suggestions he made that people should be charged for using ATM machines in a bid to reduce the volume of cash in society.

Mr Ahern said what he meant was that people should be “incentivised” to use electronic means of payment and suggested that charges should be brought down for using credit cards and debit cards.

His initial comments on Thursday – which were made on the back of a tiger kidnapping – were attacked by opposition parties and bank official representatives.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Liveline yesterday, the minister said: “I wasn’t in any way suggesting more taxes or more charges should be put on people, God Almighty, in this day and age. What I was suggesting was the people should be incentivised to use their cards more often in relation to smaller transactions and electronic payments. That way you’ll take out of the scenario a lot of cash.”

He said that compared with all other European countries Ireland had “an awful lot more cash per head of population.” He said the average person in Ireland withdraws €6,500 in cash from ATMs a year, compared to an EU average of €2,000 and €500 in Denmark.

Mr Ahern said it would be worth considering changing the way charges are imposed on debit and credit cards to make them more attractive to use. This could include changing the annual charge to one based on usage.

“Part of what could be looked at, but there are no proposals in this respect; but one of the things, if you look at other states, they don’t have the annual charge, what they do is per transaction. Maybe that’s a way of doing it, that could save people money.

“There has to be some way to incentivise people to use less cash. The more cash is in banks, the more opportunity for criminals.”

Mr Ahern cautioned against attacking bank officials for not following protocols between gardaí and banks which are supposed to be followed when staff learn about a tiger kidnapping. This involves alerting gardaí as soon as possible.

“Bank officials make the point – and I totally accept it, we all should totally accept it – it’s easy to talk about protocols. If any of us was in that situation God only knows how we would react. A lot of these people never go back to work again. Certainly I think that is something that should be emphasised.”

Retired Detective Chief Superintendent John O’Brien, who ran the Garda Liaison and Protection Section, which oversees garda-bank security, said bank officials need to have faith in the protocols and gardaí.

“The central point is that people who find themselves in this situation must have confidence in their own organisation and in rest of us and that the systems put in place will work for them.”


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