I am aware of reports of ongoing and potential rationalisation within the banking sector, both in Ireland and on a wider European level. Reductions in staffing levels are always a matter of regret, as are branch closures. As Minister, I hope they can be kept to the minimum necessary to ensure the banks can meet their obligations to their customers and the need for them over time to be able to contribute to the economy.
The Deputy will be aware that the banking sector is experiencing a challenging operating environment, with an ongoing period of low European Central Bank interest rates, slower than expected loan book growth and general uncertainty surrounding Brexit. In addition, the traditional banking model has been under pressure for some years to adapt and deal with legacy issues. In such circumstances, cost management is likely to remain a high priority for banks as it is an area under their control. However, these are decisions to be made by the boards and management of individual banks which need to be run on an independent and commercial basis. The independence of the banks is protected by relationship frameworks which are legally binding documents that cannot be changed unilaterally. They are publicly available and were insisted on by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market. Notwithstanding this, officials from my Department have contacted the various banks mentioned by the Deputy which have all stated they are investing across all channels to improve customer experience and continue to invest significantly in their IT systems and online services.