C: Máirín McGrath (L) & Flickr (CC BY-2.0) https://bit.ly/3yUhLr3

‘Huge blow for rural towns’: Cahir Councillor slams AIB’s decision to go cashless

It was announced this week that more than one in three AIB branches are to go cashless, meaning multiple towns across rural Ireland are set to lose their ATM and cash-in-branch facilities.

AIB, which is majority State owned, has announced it will make a total of 70 of its 170 bank branches cashless in a decision which has prompted major questions around security and social inclusion. The move will also mean the removal of ATMs, night safes and drop safes from inside branches nationwide, and will also mean that the droves of affected branches will not have notes, cheques, coins, foreign exchange or bank drafts.

“With digital usage soaring, the cost of providing cash services has become increasingly unsustainable,” AIB said in a statement.

The withdrawal of cash services will take place in towns including Cahir, Gort, Dingle, Abbeyfeale, Birr and Wicklow Town from as early as September.

Independent councillor for the Cahir Electoral Area on Tipperary County Council, Máirín McGrath says the news represents a ‘huge blow’ for rural towns.

Her comments come as it emerged on Wednesday that AIB in the scenic south Tipperary town of Cahir is one of 70 branches set to become cashless in coming months.

“This is a huge blow for the town of Cahir,” the councillor said. “After the loss of Bank of Ireland last year, AIB are following suit in the downgrading of service and removing their cash services from the Cahir Branch in coming months leaving many dedicated customers without access to their cash and the town without a secure, 24/7 ATM”.

She continued: “AIB say it is part of a €40 million investment programme which includes hiring additional staff for digital roles but it seems to me as a further removal of in-person services in our banking systems for customers along with the withdrawal of the town’s only remaining ATM.

“A retrograde step by AIB HQ to our rural towns, branches, their staff and customers”.

“AIB say that the downgrading of branches to cashless banks is to reflect the reduced dependency on cash but last year AIB became the only bank in Cahir after the closure of BOI & their ATM traffic has doubled since. Shocking move to leave a busy tourist town with no real bank”, the Cahir native tweeted on Wednesday evening.

The councillor also said she has requested an emergency motion to be tabled at Monday’s upcoming Municipal District Meeting in the Tipperary/Cahir/Cashel district in response to the prospected downgrading of AIB services in Cahir, calling on the council to write to the AIB CEO to call on him to “reverse” the downgrading of banking services for two of the three towns in the district, and to highlight the impact the proposed changes will have on local businesses, customers, tourists and the wider community.

Ms McGrath described “wide scale disappointment and anger across the community” about the proposed changes to banking in Cahir.

“While AIB say that the downgrading of branches to cashless banks is to reflect the reduced dependency on cash, I am not convinced this could be the case for Cahir”, the independent politician said, as she highlighted the fact AIB became the only bank in the tourist town last year following the closure of the Bank of Ireland there.

“As a result, ATM traffic alone has increased dramatically. There is no logic or justification in leaving a busy tourist town like Cahir with no real bank”.

She added that it was important to remember that the management and staff of the bank had been afforded no real input into the “unfortunate” decision.

“The decision was made at a national level in AIB who have shown little regard for the dedicated customers, local businesses or the fact that the State is a majority shareholder in the bank”.

Ms McGrath confirmed that Independent TD Mattie McGrath, along with the Rural Independents, have written to Minister Paschal O’Donohue regarding the matter, and have called for the Dail to be recalled immediately to debate the impact the downgrading of the 70 banks will have on rural communities.

Elsewhere, the decision has triggered pushback. Publicans have called for AIB to reverse the decision to go cashless, saying the move will have a substantial negative impact.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said that the impact of going cashless would have a ‘severe’ impact on business owners up and down the county. Chief Executive Paul Clancy said in a statement: “Our members will be forced into a situation where they will have to carry cash for longer distances and then wait in larger queues as the branches that do remain open become busier.

“Publicans in Castletownbere will now have to travel to Bantry, a one-hour journey each way. Taking into consideration the ‘wait time’ in the branch this simple cash transaction could take upwards of three hours to complete. Publicans will be forced to reduce the frequency of visits to the nearest branch, which will increase the cash held in the premises which could impact insurance cover. There is also a consequential increase in mileage, an unwelcome development that will increase pollution and drive up energy costs for small business owners,” the trade association of publicans in Ireland stated.

While AIB said the decision was made as part of an overall programme to increase its relationship with An Post – with customers promised to be able to access their cash at their local Post Office instead of the branch – the publicans said such a pledge “fails to stand up to scrutiny”.

“AIB’s suggestion that local post offices will take up the slack in areas without bank branches fails to stand up to scrutiny,” the association said. “Coin withdrawals in post offices are capped at €1,500 per week and must be pre-ordered. Cash lodgments are capped at €5,000 per week. This is a ridiculous situation for local businesses to find themselves in after years of loyalty to AIB.

“Given the level of disquiet among our membership, the negative impact the decision will have on their businesses and the further weakening of commercial infrastructure in towns and villages, we are asking AIB to reconsider the plan to effectively close 70 branches”, it added.

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