Saturday 22 July 2017

There's not a house that won't be affected -- it's our Dell

Greg Harkin

THE main road in Carrick-on-Shannon was packed with cars yesterday as American tourists gathered at the Failte Ireland office to get information on river cruises and accommodation.

The small Co Leitrim town has been pulling them in for decades.

But just a mile away on the same road, the real lifeblood of this area is also American. And it wants to get out of town as soon as possible.

There are 750 people working at the headquarters of MBNA, the credit card company owned by Bank of America.

Carrick-on-Shannon has a population of just 4,000 and the company's decision to sell up and get out has hit home hard.

Everyone from the local hotel owner to the local barber was talking about little else yesterday. And it was the great unknown that got them talking. There were a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts' because Bank of America won't say -- or perhaps can't say -- what will happen to MBNA Ireland.

Staff drive from six different counties to work here every day -- from Donegal, Sligo, Longford, Mayo and Roscommon.

The economic impact of this one firm reaches far beyond Carrick, with a network of suppliers, staff and their families reaching out across the surrounding countryside.

One estimate puts the annual contribution to the region in wages alone at €35m.

Bank of America has also poured hundreds of thousands of euro into local charities and projects, and has been the main sponsors of the town's Water Music Festival held every July.

Normally at lunchtime staff either go to the canteen on site or go out for lunch. Yesterday most chose to stay inside to avoid the TV cameras outside.

For Joe Ryan (25), who has worked at MBNA since joining from school at the age of 19, the lack of certainty is the most frustrating part.

"Unfortunately it is the great unknown which is hitting us," he said.

"If they just said one way or another, then there would be some certainty about the place. I'll be alright because I'm young enough and I can always emigrate if I have to.

"But there are a lot of people in there with mortgages, marriages and young children. It is devastating news for them.

"We have been told we were the most profitable part of the business, making more money than they did in Spain or Canada, so we have to be hopeful someone will come in and buy the company."

Rumours abound. One member of staff said he had heard that half the jobs would go -- and the other half would be moved to India.

"There's not a house that wouldn't be affected if it goes. This could be our Dell," said local hotelier Joe Dolan.

He owns the Bush Hotel -- the same hotel where Enda Kenny chose to spend the evening meeting the people, instead of Vincent Brown, before the election.

Around 130 properties are rented locally by staff who work at MBNA. Throw that into the mix and it looks like the Leitrim property market could be hit again.

Just down Main Street, barber Michael Masterson said any loss of jobs would be devastating for the town.

"I know a lot of the young lads by their first names because they come in here all the time and the few I have seen since yesterday are very worried," he said.

"MBNA has been a great employer and there is a fear that even if it does stay, hundreds of jobs will be moved elsewhere."

Politicians on all sides are hoping the IDA can assist in finding a buyer for a company which was, we are told, doing quite well. If that doesn't happen, the only dollars going into the Carrick-on-Shannon economy in future will be from those American tourists.

Irish Independent

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