Communities hit by a swathe of Bank of Ireland branch closures have described the move as "devastating", a blow to small-town Ireland, and even suggested it is ushering in the prospect of some areas becoming a "ghost town".
In Co Cork, the bank is closing nine branches, from Bantry to Mitchelstown and east to Youghal, while seven branches in Limerick and three each in Waterford, Kerry and Clare will close.
The response in all areas has been one of disappointment, alongside fears that footfall in towns – already hit by the Covid-9 pandemic – will be further diminished.
One of the Cork branches facing closure is that in Cobh, and the president of the Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce Johanna Murphy queried whether it was the right decision.
"In the busy island and a town like Cobh, with so much happening in the harbour, it doesn't make sense," she said.
"I am devastated for another business in the town to go.
Ms Murphy said elderly people would be most impacted by the closure and that people were going to miss the "personal touch" –a view echoed by Tommy Collins of the community council in Dunmanway in West Cork, another town which will lose its branch.
Bank of Ireland closures show us that we need a public banking system that works for ordinary people and public investment, not faceless private investors and the rich!#BankOfIreland pic.twitter.com/NSbzoyW6Jc— People Before Profit - West Cork (@PBPCSW) March 1, 2021
"It's going to have a big impact on especially elderly people, that they wouldn't be very au-fait with technology," he said. "I think that's the way banks are going.
"[The branch] is on the main street, it's a fine building, probably listed, at least the frontage and it is in a fine location.
"With every outlet closing you are going to lose football. At the moment there are a lot of retail outlets closed so the town centre in Dunmanway is nearly a ghost town. If you have a lot of retail outlets closed, customers are not inclined to come into the town centre."
Cllr Frank O'Flynn said the closure of the branch in Mitchelstown in north Cork was being accompanied by the closure of branches in nearby Cahir and Cashel.
He described the closure as "a hammer blow to the people of Mitchelstown and surrounding area", particularly when broadband was not widely available and the Government was urging people to stay local and shop local.
Branches will also close in Glanmire, CIT, Kanturk, Millstreet, Bantry and Youghal, while in Limerick branches in Abbeyfeale, Askeaton, Rathkeale and Bruff will close in the county, while in the city, outlets in Caherdavin, Roxboro and at the University of Limerick will also shut.
Mark Nagle, who runs Nagle’s Eurospar in Bruff, said the closing of the last bank in the town was “a further blow to the confidence in rural Ireland”.
“It means you have no bank between here and the city, 20km away,” Mr Nagle said.
“Limerick seems to be disproportionately affected by this. There are seven branches closing. Just two branches left in the county [outside the city] in Newcastle West and Kilmallock.
“It’s hitting the most vulnerable. It’s hitting the older customers, who might not be as online-savvy. I think the timing is a bit cynical. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and this has been thrust upon us,” Mr Nagle added.
Askeaton is another town that will be left without a bank when the branch in East Square shuts its doors. Michael O’Flaherty, who lives just outside the town, said: “We won’t realise until it's gone."
Mr O’Flaherty, who runs a wedding car rental company, said the physical impact of the closure can’t be undermined either.
“The bank was the last occupied building there in the square, I’ve no idea what they will do with it, but it will be sad to see it lie empty,” he added.
The news that Waterford will lose three Bank of Ireland branches –in Ardkeen, Kilmacthomas and Lismore – will come as a blow to the many thousands of people who rely on its services on a daily basis.
Fianna Fáil councillor Eddie Mulligan, who lives close to the Ardkeen branch, called for an immediate moratorium on the closures, while Colin Jephson, owner of Ardkeen Quality Food Store, said: “This is very disappointing news for Waterford and the Ardkeen area.
"One would hope that they might consider maintaining the premises as an ATM lobby, thereby maintaining some level of service for their many customers in the area.”
Kerry County Cllr Michael Cahill (FF) said the closure of the MTU [Tralee] branch was understandable, but that branches in Castleisland and Killorglin would be missed.
Castleisland’s branch, like Killorglin, has been scaled down, but the complete closure left a wide area, its farms, towns and communities across three counties from Kerry Limerick to Cork without a branch of the bank, Bobby O’Connell, local councillor said.
The nearest Bank of Ireland now for people on the Kerry-Limerick border was Newcastle West and the people of Ballydesmond in Co Cork as well as Kerry were all affected.
“There is nothing now between Tralee and Newcastle West. It is very disappointing and a dereliction of duty on behalf of the bank,” Mr O’Connell said.
The chief executive of Tralee Chamber Alliance, Ken Tobin, said everyone was very surprised at the closure of Killorglin and Castleisland and questions had to be asked now might AIB follow suit.
“We are concerned over the past number of years with the closure of post offices in villages. Now we are looking at regional towns. Where does this stop?” Mr Tobin asked.
Kerry is also set to lose Ulster bank branches in Tralee and Killarney.
“If Bank of Ireland are down-grading, are there fears for AIB?” he asked.
The bank closures would mean empty buildings and fewer staff working in these towns.
Banks attracted people into towns and the properties occupied by banks were in prominent places and these would now be empty in towns.
Bank of Ireland said reduced footfall was the background for the closures, but perhaps the banks should have looked at increasing services to attract people into them, Mr Tobin suggested.