Monday, 22 February 2021
Ábhair Ghnó an tSeanaid – Matters on the Business of the Seanad
Last week, NatWest Bank announced its decision to wind down the operations of Ulster Bank in the Republic of Ireland. The reason given was that it was no longer profitable. The loss of Ulster Bank is a major blow to the State and to the many communities in which this bank has operated for more than a century. Ulster Bank has been particularly strong in Border communities, and its branches have operated in prime locations in many towns, including The Diamond in Monaghan town. Branches of the bank have also operated in many other prime locations throughout the country.
The timing of this announcement in the midst of a worldwide pandemic is greatly disappointing. The manner in which the staff of the bank were informed, hours before the press release, was also very disappointing and, quite frankly, not good enough. I reiterate that the decision is a huge blow to the communities in which the bank branches are located and the manner in which staff were informed of this development was also disappointing. It is a worrying and uncertain time for the 2,800 staff members who work with the bank and for all the holders of accounts with Ulster Bank.
I would like us to ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to come into this House to advise us on what the Government can do to protect those Ulster Bank account holders and what future the Government can provide for those people. At the moment we have a duopoly of banks in this country with Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, AIB. We have a lack of competition. There has been talk of PermanentTSB, PTSB, and AIB coming together in some form to buy some of Ulster Bank's business operations. I think the PTSB option must also be explored. It would be timely for the Minister to come into the House, therefore, so we can have a debate about Ulster Bank, its account holders' future and the broader future of banking in this State and what that will look like in future in order that people and communities can plan ahead.
The other issue I raise is that of green certificates, which are vitally important in the agriculture sector. These green certificates allow young people to avail of existing grants and schemes in the sector, and it also makes the inheritance of land a more viable option. We have a chronic lack of places where it is possible to earn green certificates now. There was an incident recently in Westport in Mayo where 450 people applied for some 200 places in respect of green certificates and those places were taken up within six minutes. Westport College of Further Education has stated that it has demand for about 1,000 places in 2021. I ask that this issue be addressed by the relevant Minister or Ministers. What is needed here are simply more places on the course in question for green certificates and more tutors to deliver those courses so that young people can enter the farming sector without obstruction, which is what we want them to do.