BANK of Ireland said it will reopen the majority of branches it closed in March. It had shut 101 of them due to the pandemic, mainly in rural areas.
Last month it declined to give a commitment to reopen them, a move that prompted fears that many would never reopen.
And the Financial Services Union had warned that greater use of technology in favour of branch transactions should not be used as an excuse for wholesale closures of branches by the banks.
Now the bank says it will reopen 83 branches from June 29.
Others in the likes of colleges, where there is restricted access, will remain closed for now. These number 18.
But some rural communities claim the branches that are reopening have been downgraded.
The bank kept 161 branches nationwide fully open through the lockdown. It said it was forced to close other branches to help safeguard critical services.
“The majority of these closed branches will reopen on Monday June 29,” it said in a statement.
In advance, modifications will be made to allow for social distancing and the protection of customers and colleagues in branch.
Branches in colleges, hospitals and airports will remain closed.
Customers have largely stopped using branches of all banks during the pandemic, with an upsurge in contactless card payments and electronic transfers.
Business owners and residents in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, have been the most vocal about the closure of their Bank of Ireland branch. They said they believed the pandemic was being used as a “smokescreen” to close their local branch for good.
Solicitor Evan O’Dwyer has written to Bank of Ireland CEO Francesca McDonagh on behalf of a number of businesses.
Asked about the bank’s latest announcement, Mr O’Dwyer greeted the reopening of the Ballyhaunis branch with caution.
“We have been advised that the branch is being downgraded. This move sees a full-time branch being demoted to a part-time branch opening mornings only.
“This does little to allay the fear concern and indeed anger of customers including large industrial employers in the town that things will return to normal.”
Bank of Ireland head of retail operations Gavin Kelly said his bank will reopen most closed branches from 29 June, “while making changes to ensure that social distancing can be maintained for the safety of our customers and colleagues”.
ATM services will also return to full operations, he said.
ATMs at closed branch locations continued to provide cash withdrawal services but lodgement services were withdrawn. These ATMs will again offer lodgement as well as withdrawal services from June 29.