backlash | 

Paschal Donohoe’s officials knew AIB’s plan to make 70 branches cashless days before he did

Finance Minister only learned of controversial changes just hours before bank announced them
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Picture by Niall Carson

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Picture by Niall Carson© PA

Hugh O'ConnellSunday Independent

Department of Finance officials waited four days to tell Paschal Donohoe that AIB was closing cash services in 70 branches — a move the bank then reversed after a major public and political backlash.

The Finance Minister was only told of AIB’s plan a few hours before it was announced publicly by the bank last Tuesday morning, despite an official in his department being informed of the details the previous Friday, July 15, and the matter also being discussed at the department’s executive board meeting last Monday.

Last night, his spokesperson said officials had “underestimated the potential reaction” to AIB’s proposal and viewed plans to expand banking services with An Post as a “positive for customers”. The spokesperson said: “The minister was made aware of the AIB plan on Tuesday. He did not know in advance.”

The decision by the department not to tell the minister for several days of AIB’s plans was branded last night as “outrageous” by the Oireachtas Finance Committee chairman John McGuinness. “They showed complete disregard for their own minister, a minister who has a large shareholding still in the bank,” the Fianna Fáil TD said.

AIB reversed the plan to remove cash services at 70 of its 170 branches last Thursday after Taoiseach Micheál Martin intervened, while on government business in Asia, and said it should “reflect and reconsider”.

Now Mr McGuinness has confirmed plans to hold committee hearings in September on both the AIB controversy and the future of banking in Ireland.

“Have they abandoned the plan for a period of time or have they abandoned it for good? We don’t know,” he said. “It’s outrageous and scandalous that the banks behave the way they behave.”

A Department of Finance spokesperson confirmed an official in the department was informed by AIB on Friday, July 15, of the details of the bank’s plans to close cash services in branches up and down the country. The proposals were also discussed at the weekly meeting of the department’s executive board last Monday.

But Mr Donohoe, who is chair of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers and was in Czech Republic, Slovakia and London between Monday and Wednesday last week, was only told on Tuesday morning with the bank announcing the move later that morning.

Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell said the finance committee must meet urgently to discuss the “damning” revelations the Department of Finance knew days in advance of the move becoming public “and did nothing”.

Another committee member, Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan, said officials should have brought the matter to Mr Donohoe’s attention “as soon as possible”. But, he added: “Irrespective of that delay, the fault lies with AIB in making an ill-considered and ill-judged position. It would have been preferable had they told him immediately, but blame lies with AIB for blindsiding the political system.”

When asked, Mr Donohoe’s spokesperson said the minister had confidence in AIB chief executive Colin Hunt.

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