As the Deputy will be aware, my Department, jointly with the Department of Rural and Community Development, published a report on “Local Public Banking in Ireland”. As the Deputy knows, the Report concluded that there is not a compelling case for the State to establish a new local public banking system in Ireland, based on the German Sparkassen model as proposed, for a number of reasons. However, the Deputy may rest assured that the Government is committed to encouraging greater competition in the banking sector and supporting the local provision of banking and financial services.
The Government recognises a number of positive aspects underlying the concept of community banking generally, including access to finance for SMEs and supporting local communities and economies. Indeed, many of the objectives of community banking align with Government policy and supports that have already been put in place. Consequently, a commitment was included in the Report that my Department would arrange for an independent evaluation to be carried out in order to consider how the objectives of community banking and how the local provision of banking and financial services could be furthered in Ireland, through other delivery mechanisms.
The Government is also committed to continuing to engage with stakeholders and other interested parties on this issue of community banking and the local provision of banking and financial services by way of a stakeholder forum, which will be conducted by the external consultants carrying out the evaluation that I referred to.
In line with the relevant Office of Government Procurement processes, my Department held a mini-competition to tender for the necessary policy and economics services to appoint consultants to carry out the independent evaluation and run the stakeholder forum on community banking and the local provision of banking and financial services. The tender was open for a period of four weeks and closed on 18th December 2018.
The responses received are currently being evaluated by my Department in conjunction with the Office of Government Procurement. I anticipate that this evaluation process will be completed and the contract awarded in the coming weeks. Once the consultants have been appointed, the stakeholder forum will be convened as soon as possible in accordance with the agreed project plan and timeline.