ASSEMBLY member and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy has called on the Ulster Bank to keep its Tandragee branch open as the beleaguered organisation announces the closure of 20 branches throughout Ireland.
Worried that the Ulster could follow the closure of the town’s Northern Bank branch last May, Mr Kennedy insisted it was essential that the town should retain its last banking facility.
The Ulster Bank announced its intention to close around 20 branches 2013 last week, but did not identify which of these would be shutting.
“What worries me,” said Mr Kennedy, “is that the Northern was a busier branch than the Ulster in Tandragee, and pleas for the branch to be saved fell on deaf ears, and I would ask the Ulster to be more tuned in to the needs of the community than the Northern.”
When the Northern closed the Tandragee branch, the Ulster was experiencing difficulties through the major glitch in its main computer at the parent company the Royal Bank of Scotland.
According to Mr Kennedy, this could have discouraged Northern customers from transferring. Most moved to the Northern branches in Markethill and Portadown.
He added, “Considerable benefit is obtained by independent traders in towns such as Tandragee as a result of the presence of banks and other lending institutions, and the closure of the branch could have a further devastating impact.
“It is essential that Ulster Bank clarifies which local branches, if any, will be affected by this announcement.”
On the overall context, the Ulster announced a £555m loss in the first six months of 2012, and this was exacerbated by the computer blip for which a further £28m was set aside.
MLA William Irwin MLA has written to the chief executive of the Ulster Bank to express his concerns.
He stated, “The Ulster Bank branch in Tandragee is a vital service for local businesses and indeed local savers and following the unfortunate closure of the Northern Bank in the town, I know that many savers and businesses switched banks to avoid having to travel further afield to do transactions thus, saving time and expense.”
DUP Councillor Gareth Wilson warned of the impact of closing the bank. “This service is really important to people in Tandragee and I think of many who use this service, including those without a car and the elderly, who would find it very challenging to travel to another area to access money and lodge money.
A statement from the Ulster Bank said, “We continue to keep our branch network under review to ensure that we are operating in the correct locations for our customers. As part of this review we will be closing in the region of 20 branches and sub offices on the island of Ireland in 2013.
“We expect to be in a position to provide further details in the next few weeks and will communicate directly with our customers and employees at that time.”