Bank branch closures are a ‘double blow’ for East Antrim

The Bank of Ireland on Larne's Main Street which is to close. INLT 05-358-PR
The Bank of Ireland on Larne's Main Street which is to close. INLT 05-358-PR

BANK of Ireland has announced it is to shut its branch in Larne later this year.

The local facility is one of nine earmarked for closure in Northern Ireland during May and June, alongside others including Carrickfergus and Ballyclare.

The bank has confirmed that staff affected by the closures will either be redeployed to other branches or could potentially be eligible for existing redundancy programmes. It is understood that a total of 50 employees (out of 750) will be impacted across the province, and their options will be discussed on an individual basis.

And while the move will reduce Bank of Ireland’s branch network in Northern Ireland from 44 to 35, the remaining branches will be “upgraded and modernised” as part of a £10m investment scheme. The bank’s network in the Republic of Ireland will not be affected.

The branches scheduled for closure are said to account for seven per cent of the business conducted by the branch network in the province, and have been described as “smaller branches where the volume of business is insufficient to sustain them”.

Sean Sheehan, Bank of Ireland regional manager for Northern Ireland, said: “To help deliver our strategy for Northern Ireland we are investing in a modern branch network that provides customers with easy access to banking services and is fully integrated with our online, phone and mobile channels.

“We also have to ensure that the network is cost-effective and fit for purpose. We understand that closing branches is disappointing for those who use them but the volume of business at the branches involved means they are not sustainable in the long term. We will continue to service those customers through larger branches which are being modernised and upgraded.”

John Shannon, chairman of Larne Traders Forum said it was “regrettable that another local service was being removed from Larne”, but added that the announcement “comes as no real surprise”.

“This is a sign of the times I’m afraid,” he told the Times. “The popularity of internet banking means that people now have less need to go into their branches, and the banks are actively promoting this because it is more cost-effective.

“It is good that staff will be redeployed to other branches, but unfortunately it also means there will be an empty premises on Main Street. Hopefully another business will come in to fill the gap as a soon as possible.

“The other downside is that people who don’t use internet banking and prefer to go into the bank in person. These people will now have to travel to Ballymena or Glengormley to use the facilities there.”

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson said the closures were “a double blow” for residents in his constituency.

“The decision by the Bank of Ireland to close its branches in Larne and Carrickfergus will be bad news for the people of East Antrim,” he added.

“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the management of the Bank of Ireland over this decision. Many people and businesses depend on having a nearby branch to be able to easily access different banking services which is now going to be made harder for my constituents with this announcement.

“The local area has already seen the closure of the Ulster Bank’s branch in Jordanstown, the Danske branch in Whitehead and we are also waiting on a decision by First Trust over more closures in the East Antrim area.

“With an ever decreasing number of branches in the area, I hope that these banks will look to ensure that there is at least some sort of adequate services available to both personal and business customers,” Mr Dickson concluded.

Local Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs accused the bank of “effectively withdrawing from our district” and claimed it was leaving customers “with little alternative but to take their business elsewhere”.

Mr Beggs added: “It is clear that the changing face of modern banking is leaving us with much less choice in East Antrim. It is also bad news for the staff and creates more dereliction in our town centre.”

East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross said he has already received a number of phone calls from concerned customers who feel that they will be left vulnerable without a physical presence from their bank.

“They have expressed concerns about using the internet banking systems,” he added. “This is particularly true of more elderly constituents who are unfamiliar with the Internet and dislike using ATM machines.”

Bank of Ireland said it will be writing to all affected customers detailing the changes that are taking place. The other branches due to shut are Ballymoney, Kilkeel, Kilrea, and Rathfriland. In Londonderry, the Shipquay Street and Waterside branches will close and be amalgamated into the bank’s main commercial branch at Strand Road.