On Monday, I raised Bank of Ireland’s decision to close bank branches which follows on from the decision of Ulster Bank to withdraw from the market. There is a need for an enhanced role for An Post and Credit Unions
Bhí mé ag éisteacht ar maidin le Príomhfheidhmeannach Bhanc na hÉireann faoin gcinneadh atá déanta acu craobhacha bainc a dhúnadh trasna na tíre agus i nGaillimh ina measc – in Uachtar Ard, i mBaile Átha Ghártha agus i nDún Mór. This morning I listened to the CEO of Bank of Ireland, Francesca McDonagh, talking about bank closures and the decision by Bank of Ireland to close a number of branches across the country, including in Oughterard, Ballygar and Dunmore in Galway. I regret that this is happening but welcome there will be no compulsory redundancies as part of the rationalisation. I also welcome the commitment to enhance services or provide additional services through An Post.
This follows the recent decision by Ulster Bank to exit the Irish market. We need to equip, encourage and enable An Post and credit unions to enhance their financial services. Both An Post and credit unions should be going beyond basic financial services. The retreat of traditional banks is an opportunity for trusted organisations like An Post and credit unions to provide day-to-day financial products and services. They are in so many of our communities and they have been reaching out and helping households that banks have not. I refer, for example, to the micro loan scheme which is why, thankfully, we do not see a massive growth in pay day lenders.
An Post is already showing innovation and flexibility via its green hub initiative. It is not only helping people access finance for home retrofit and energy upgrades but supporting householders with various grant schemes. This morning there was a queue outside the door of a credit union branch in Galway, with four cashiers working in it. People like credit unions. They support local groups and charities and any profits are shared with the community. A major rationalisation in credit unions has led to stronger institutions now providing mortgages and credit cards.
Unlike bank branches, the need for financial services will not disappear. Credit unions and An Post can fill the gap banks are creating using their local network and knowledge of communities. I am aware that a debate with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has been requested. Perhaps we could include the issue of An Post and credit unions and what they can do for our local regions in the absence of bank branches.