Thu, Apr 1, 2021
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We need a banking forum that involves not just the pillar banks and the Central Bank. It needs to include credit unions, post offices and labour unions for a truly inclusive discussion on what the future of banking should be.
Neasa spoke in the Dáil today on the need for a Public Banking Forum
I will talk about a banking forum. A few weeks ago, the Dáil debated the current banking situation in Ireland. I think we would all agree that we are at a moment of great difficulty. We had the announcement by Ulster Bank that it is withdrawing from the Irish market. Hot on the heels of that came Bank of Ireland’s announcement of the closure of almost 100 of its branches. During the debate, Deputies from every party and Independent group spoke of the high level of distress in communities and their worries about losing local bank branches and access to banking services. This is a matter of financial inclusion. Financial inclusion and access to bank services are closely linked to the ability to access money and use it well.
We heard that there is a real concern about competitiveness in the banking sector and that having two pillar banks operating here is not competitive. We have a banking duopoly. We heard that financial products may become more profit driven. We already have one of the most expensive mortgage products in Europe. Most important, the Minister for Finance, in response to questions from me and other Deputies on whether there is any expectation of another pillar bank entering the Irish market, stated the answer was “No”. It is not that the banks leaving the market were not making a profit. They were just not making enough profit. In those circumstances, it is very hard to see how another bank would enter the Irish market.
The issues facing people in the context of banking speak very much to some of the discussions we have had today on regional access and development. There was a very good announcement from the Government this week about rural funding and the ability to work remotely, and concentrating on and trying to support local and regional communities and areas in Ireland. If SMEs do not have access to credit, much of our good work will be undone. We know from the research that having a local bank branch and a relationship with the manager of it has an impact greater than 50% on whether an SME is comfortable accessing credit. We know in Ireland that SMEs do not access enough credit.
We are now facing into the ramifications of Brexit and Covid and the post-Covid recovery. The Financial Services Union, FSU, has called for a banking forum so that we can get all of this stuff on the table and look at it in detail, and have all of the players in the banking sector in a room together to discuss it. As we face into the post-Covid recovery, people’s ability to access credit will be of paramount importance. If a local bank branch is closing and one is not able to walk down the road to another branch and talk to a manager, that will impact on people’s immediate experience of financial inclusion and also on our national recovery from the pandemic.
I ask the Minister of State to indicate whether the Department will set up a banking forum. By a banking forum, I do not just mean the Minister for Finance or the officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sitting in a room with pillar banks and, perhaps, the Central Bank. We want credit unions, post offices and labour unions at the table and a truly inclusive discussion on what should be the future of banking.