The decision to close two First Trust bank branches has been slammed as ‘unforgivable’ following the shock decision last night.
News broke last night that fifteen branches across Northern Ireland are to be axed.
The Armagh city branch will close on July 7, and Portadown just over three weeks later on August 4.
Ulster Unionist Jim Speers, a member of the bank for years, says the move shows “a total disregard for customers and a community that relies on local banking”.
Speaking to Armagh I, Mr Speers, said: “I was just watching TV when my wife told me. I couldn’t believe it. We as a family have banked there for generations; supported them before it was even First Trust.
“To walk away from Armagh like this is unforgivable. The economic prosperity of a community ruined; hundreds will be affected by this, it’s simply unbelievable.”
Sinn Fein’s Cathal Boylan added: “I share the disappointment and concern of many about about the impact of the bank closure on local businesses, the economy staff and local residents, especially those who lack the necessary skills to do online banking or have the necessary access to broadband to be able to conduct their financial affairs.
“My colleague, Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady, has written to First Trust to ask them to reconsider their decision and to request that they take full account of the likely impact on local and in particular, rural communities. Banks have a broader responsibility to their customers and this action is certainly not evidence of that.”
The bombshell announcement was made by head of First Trust Des Moore.
He said the decision had been taken “due to changing customer behaviours and trends”.
Mr Moore said there had also been a “sizable shift” away from branch usage to online banking.
The decision was taken at the end of an 18 month review.
He said the bank would be creating five new specialist business centres at its branches at Ballymena, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Newry and Derry/Londonderry.
The changes were essential for an “efficient, effective and sustainable” business.
The branches closing are as follows: Armagh, Antrim and Andersonstown on July 7; Banbridge on August 4; Cookstown on June 30; Crescent Link in Derry/Londonderry on July 7; Downpatrick on July 28; Belfast, High Street, August 4; Upper Newtownards Road on July 28l Magherafelt, July 28; Belfast Ormeau Road on June 30; Portadown on August 4; Strabane on July 29; and Warrenpoint, June 30.
Mr Moore said it had been a “difficult decision” to close the branches, adding that First Trust would be working hard to “minimise the impact on the customers and staff concerned”.
Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy commented: “The announcement of the closure of the First Trust branch in Armagh will have come as a bolt from the blue for both staff and customers alike, as well as the business community in the City.
“It seems that although staff were aware a restructuring process was underway, no one expected the severity and suddenness of the Northern Ireland wide closures.
“The first priority should be the welfare of the staff concerned. I will be contacting First Trust to find out exactly what their plans are for those directly affected and I will work with other local representatives, Trade Unions and staff representatives to seek to minimise the impact of this blow.
Councillor Sam Nicholson said: “This news will indeed be greeted with dismay by many people in Armagh and the surrounding area. As public representatives we are all trying to boost economic life in the City, so the closure of any bank will be a negative. My thoughts are with the bank staff and the customers at this time, and I will be supporting my party colleagues in their efforts to help minimise the impact of this announcement.”