Natwest responds to concerns for 600 NI jobs after news Ulster Bank to close in Republic

Natwest has sought to give reassurances that 600 Ulster Bank jobs in Northern Ireland are not at risk in the wake of its decision to withdraw operations from the Republic of Ireland.

By Philip Bradfield
Friday, 19th February 2021, 10:21 am
Updated Friday, 19th February 2021, 4:52 pm

The announcement came as parent company NatWest revealed that it made a pre-tax operating loss of £351 million in 2020.

Explaining the move, NatWest said a review had found that Ulster Bank business in the south would not achieve an acceptable level of returns going forward.

The general secretary of the Financial Services Union (FSU) John O’Connell called on Ulster Bank to give assurances that jobs would transfer to new owners along with loans and work.

A branch of Ulster Bank on Grafton Street in Dublin's city centre. The withdrawal of Ulster Bank from the Irish market would be a "major hammer blow" to customers and workers, the Dail has heard.

“This is a very bad morning for Ulster Bank staff,” he told RTE. “There were 2,800 jobs in the Republic and 600 further jobs in Northern Ireland at stake,” he said.

Protecting those jobs must be a priority for Nat West, for potential buyers and the Minister for Finance, he urged.

Responding to concerns raised by FSU, the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein, a Natwest spokesman said there would be no compulsory redundancies in 2021 in Northern Ireland.

“There will be no new or compulsory departures this year for colleagues working for Ulster Bank Ireland DAC in Northern Ireland as a result of this announcement,” he told the News Letter.

Ulster Bank’s chief executive in the Republic, Jane Howard, said that no branches in the Republic will be closing there this year.

“There’s never a good time to deliver news like this and I understand that it’s extremely disappointing news for both customers and colleagues,” she told RTE Morning Ireland.

“But now that the decision has been made, my focus and our focus will be on making sure that we complete this phased withdrawal over a number of years, in an orderly fashion, so that we do a good job for both customers and colleagues.

“What’s really important for today is there is no change right now, we’re continuing to offer a banking service, and no branches will be closing this year. (Customers) don’t need to take any action and we’ll be starting to communicate with our customers today.”

Ms Howard said she was reluctant to say how many years the phased withdrawal process would take.

“I think it’s unhelpful if I start speculating but it is going to be a number of years,” Ms Howard added. “I think these things take time and we’ve seen that from the past.”

Two other Irish banks - both of which have the Irish government as the majority shareholder – have already made moves to potentially acquire Ulster Bank assets south of the border. NatWest has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with AIB over the purchase of Ulster Bank’s corporate and commercial loans.Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said it was a “difficult day” for the Irish banking sector and for the Ulster Bank staff. However he stressed that the Irish Government did not have any role in commercial decisions over the bank’s future.  But Aontú Leader and Oireachtas Finance Committee member Peadar Tóibín TD also expressed grave concern. “The lack of competition in the banking market has been an absolute disaster for home owners, small to medium businesses and regional Ireland,” he said. “That lack of competition is about to get a whole lot worse if the market is allowed to contract any further”.

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