Bank closures are damaging the rural economy and making it harder for the self-employed to conduct business, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Dermot Kelleher has stated.

Kelleher criticised the Government for failing to leverage its stake in the major banks - which is 71% in AIB and 13.9% in Bank of Ireland - to defend rural interests and push back against the closures of banks.

A move from physical to online banking, as suggested by the banks, is not feasible for many given the poor internet connection speeds of many rural areas and the nature of business in farming communities, such as the still widespread use of cheques to make payments, the ICSA added.

“Already in 2021, we have seen announcements that Ulster Bank is gradually closing down its business in this country. Bank of Ireland announced the closure of 88 branches earlier this year and many of these are in rural areas,” Kelleher commented.

“There is no post office in all of east Cork apparently geared up for banking services,” he claimed.

Internet connectivity

The roll-out of the National Broadband Plan was quoted by the ICSA as being essential for online banking to become an option for rural dwellers.

However, the organisation believes that many communities have still to experience tangible benefits from the project.

Some areas have had recent dis-improvements to internet quality, according to Kelleher.

“Banking online also depends on good broadband, which is actually getting worse in some rural areas.

“Meanwhile, the roll-out of fibre optic is making progress, but the actual connection of homes and businesses in rural areas continues to be put on the long finger,” the ICSA president continued.

Undermining facilities

The ICSA has said the Government must make good on its commitment to support rural communities, with actions on issues such as the closure of rural bank branches.

“Credit facilities to farmers are very much skewed in favour of large-scale dairy expansion projects, which are actually sanctioned from Dublin,” the organisation’s head added.

The effects of the bank closures and poor broadband have only been exacerbated over the course of the pandemic, Kelleher said.

“All of this is undermining the economies of small towns and rural areas.

"The impact of COVID-19 on small towns and rural facilities has been particularly disastrous, but nobody in Government realises just how bad things are,” he finished.