Workers tell of shock at getting bad news by conference call
A NOTICE neatly taped to the door stating that the branch would be closed for an hour from 2.45pm due to "unforeseen circumstances" was the first signal that something was amiss.
And these were certainly "unforeseen circumstances" -- on any number of levels.
Certainly, Bank of Scotland, when it came to Ireland a decade ago, having smelled the tantalising odours of a Tiger economy and vibrant property market wafting across the Irish Sea, had never envisaged things would come to such an abrupt end.
The 3pm meeting yesterday at Bank of Scotland's headquarters on Dublin's St Stephen's Green was broadcast across the national branch network via a telephone conference call from Bank of Scotland Ireland chief executive Joe Higgins.
All 44 Halifax branches nationwide will close from mid- May, with the loss of 750 jobs in total. The bank will now focus on corporate and commercial banking, retaining 850 staff.
Minutes after the conference call, three shell-shocked workers from the bank's finance department emerged on to the street for a much-needed cigarette break.
"We're absolutely shocked," said Niamh Kenny, sharing cigarettes with a colleague -- "a non-smoker" he said.
"There were rumblings but we never thought things would be this bad," said Ms Kenny. "Nobody knew what to say -- there was total silence at the meeting after Joe Higgins spoke."
"I've never seen the place so quiet," agreed colleague Lisa Higgins. "People have been shocked by the scale of it."
The atmosphere at the meeting had been "sad", one young man said, adding: "We kind of had a feeling something would be announced but I can't say anything more about it."
Sandra Rothwell said the staff were "totally devastated" by the news.
Many of the workforce had come back from Britain and abroad -- first- and second-generation Irish -- on the promise of a great career, she said.
"They've come back, set up homes here -- and at a time when houses were so expensive -- and their jobs are gone.
"There are also several married couples working together in various sections of the bank," added Ms Rothwell.
Unions say they continue to hope that the so-called 'Third Banking Force' -- the amalgamation of Bank of Scotland with other financial institutions such as Permanent TSB, Irish Nationwide and EBS -- to rival AIB and Bank of Ireland is still an option and that jobs can be saved.
"This is a crazy decision to take at such short notice when the prospect of a third banking force in Ireland of which Bank of Scotland (Ireland) could be a huge part is still very much in the mix," UNITE union spokesman Robert Hartnett said.
However, at a press conference last night following the announcement, Mr Higgins effectively ruled that out, saying they had considered all their options, including the Third Banking Force option, before coming to their decision.
The first to plunge into the market with 100pc mortgages, Bank of Scotland (Ireland) has now concluded that it needs to reshape its business to reflect the "continuing very difficult economic environment".
Staff had done "an excellent job. There was nothing they could have done to change the fundamentals," said Mr Higgins.
Meanwhile, workers at Bank of Scotland's Call Centre in Dundalk were shell-shocked at the news that all 130 jobs were to go while area politicians called for an urgent jobs stimulus package for the Co Louth town.
The centre only opened in January 2006 and it is understood from yesterday's announcement that all 130 workers will be made redundant by May.