Michael Moynihan: Modern ‘advances’ lead to accessibility issues

Going to town to do your banking has any number of consequences — for traffic, carbon emissions, and quality of life — all of which are related to accessibility
Michael Moynihan: Modern ‘advances’ lead to accessibility issues

Some 88  Bank of Ireland branches have closed around the country, with people forced to range far and wide for necessary financial services. Picture: Denis Minihane.

ONE of my research assistants has discovered the concept of the word cloud — a concept that is now dominating the discourse in the house. Whether it’s Squid Game or the later works of Ms T Swift, the idea of recurring terms in a discussion or debate has become part of life here, and I phrase that as neutrally as I can.

A word cloud isn’t an infallible guide to themes, mind you. If one were applied to these columns in recent months, it mightn’t throw up Cork itself, as the location for much of the experiences detailed in the columns is understood and doesn’t have to be spelled out.

It mightn’t pick up on another recurring theme that is implicit in our daily life and which shadows the smaller detail of challenges and struggles in the city.

I’m referring to accessibility, which has been an explicit message in past columns about the city’s openness to people, but, of course, there are nuances here that operate at several different levels.

Consider, for instance, the dissonance between the ease and immediacy of communication in the modern age, and the realities of physical access. The tension between the two is an ongoing issue, and visible far more often than you might think.

Breaking the banks

Case study one: Your columnist was in a city bank branch last week and saw a classic example of that dissonance in real time, when a lady in the queue for an ATM broke from the line to lasso one of the branch workers for help in using her cash card. She was insistent and specific in her instructions and, to give the young man his due, he was accommodating and helpful.

It wasn’t quite the same day that Bank of Ireland branches all over the country closed their doors for the final time, but it didn’t have to be for the incident to resonate. It foreshadowed the future for thousands of citizens of the country, whose local bank branches have closed and they are forced to range far and wide for necessary financial services.

While the only branch in Cork City that appeared to be included in the closures is that in Cork IT/MTU, others that closed are in Glanmire, Cobh, Bantry, Dunmanway, Kanturk, Millstreet, Mitchelstown, and Youghal.

This is a considerable problem. I almost used the word ‘inconvenience’, but that’s a little wishy-washy when you bear in mind there are more than 15,000 students in the Bishopstown campus, for instance, a figure that doesn’t cover visitors, both regular and occasional, as well as a considerable number of staff.

That’s a very large number of people to deprive of a bank branch.

The argument could be made that places such as Glanmire and Cobh are close enough to the city for their residents to carry out retail banking errands in branches in Cork itself, but of course this misses the point of access.

Going to town to do your banking has any number of consequences — for traffic, carbon emissions, and quality of life — all of which are related to accessibility. People getting on the road because they don’t have a bricks-and-mortar bank building open in their town, heading to the city instead of popping to the local branch, clogging up the roads both coming and going from the city, making journeys that shouldn’t be necessary, with all the stresses and headaches that those journeys entail.

Note: I’m sure there’s no shortage of people proffering the argument that customers can do their banking online. While this is possible, of course, it doesn’t suit everyone — nor should it be necessary to suit everyone, a point which is tacitly conceded by the banks.

Why else would they have any actual branches?

Second note: I’m not getting involved in any discussion of the moral argument to be made here along the lines of: ‘Well, the banks, you know yourself, sure we bailed them out so why don’t they meet us halfway on those branches in fairness.’

(Because, you know, they’re the banks.)

Heading Shannonside

Case study two: On Monday morning, yours truly had to head up to Limerick, which seemed a perfect opportunity to consider the necessity of a proper Cork-Limerick motorway — one that would expedite the business of getting home from Limerick when you’re finished whatever it is you’re doing there.

(To all my friends in Limerick: that’s a joke, kiiid.)

On a more serious note, I was wondering about the benefits of this much-discussed motorway plan, the advantages it would confer upon both cities as the sleek new road helped... helped... helped to...

These thoughts dissipated like the morning fog as I found myself inching along through the traffic in Blackpool for a lot longer than I expected.

It was a while since I’d had to zoom north-west to Shannonside and, as usual, I underestimated the amount of time necessary to clear the city limits.

(The real crime was the fact that the entire episode of 'Land of the Giants' about delivery apps was swallowed up before I cleared the city.)

While the notion of a Cork-Limerick motorway seems as ethereal as ever, my journey last Monday reminded me of the potential for such a project to have at least one unintended consequence — to create a bottleneck in Blackpool.

I’m well aware that one of the motivations behind the scheme is to bypass chokepoints such as Buttevant and Charleville on the journey, but would it be worth it to choke part of the city to do so?

Accessibility all over again, but this time with a double blow.

Not only is there a potential issue here for those leaving Cork for Limerick, using the main egress point, but there’s also a potential issue for local traffic — in an area that has not been well served in terms of infrastructure over the years, to put it mildly.

If cars and lorries from all over Cork that need to go to Shannon Airport/Thomond Park/the Hunt Museum/the Gaelic grounds are making for Blackpool in order to get on the motorway for the midwest, then access for all becomes a problem.

(Note: I am aware that Blackpool may not be the starting point eventually agreed for said motorway, and that an argument has been made for looping the motorway across to the Dunkettle Interchange. To that, I can only point out that an extra route bringing thousands more cars is precisely what Dunkettle needs.)

These two case studies converge at certain points, too. Those who don’t have their own cars need public transport to travel between Cork and Limerick — but not all those who need public transport can avail of online booking services, for instance.

Accessibility again, but with a different flavour. Accessibility at one level leads to accessibility at another, obviously enough, but the reverse is also true.

A lack of accessibility is one of the original sins of modern life, and a ready solution isn’t readily apparent — or easily accessed, come to that.

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