| 5.5°C Dublin

Cancer girl's treatment in doubt over late payment in bank chaos

THE Central Bank is demanding details from banks of their contingency plans for an IT meltdown after Ulster Bank's technical glitch hit more than 100,000 customers.

It comes as it was revealed that National Irish Bank and AIB both experienced worrying -- if minor -- system breakdowns in the past week.

Ulster Bank today "unreservedly apologised" to its customers in newspaper adverts and said its "technical issue" has now been resolved.

However, it said it was taking longer than expected to clear the backlog of payments.

It comes as details emerged about the case of a seven-year-old cancer sufferer from Scotland whose parents feared her life support machine would be switched off because of a delayed hospital payment.


Olivia Downie, from Aberdeenshire is being treated at the Hospital Angeles in Tijuana, Mexico for a rare and highly agressive form of cancer called neuroblastoma.

The hospital was due a payment of thousands of euro through a NatWest account, which is affected by the wider RBS Group problem that has also hit Ulster Bank. A last-minute intervention to settle the payment ensured that the hospital received the money.

Fifty Ulster Bank branches will open from 9.30am to 7pm from today until Friday next.

A full list of branches is available on their website, www.ulsterbank.ie/help.

Customers unable to get to a branch or an ATM are asked to contact the bank on 1800-205100. They can also take cash out on credit cards interest free.

Now in a bid to prevent such a catastrophic failure happening again, the Central Bank and the Irish Payment Service Organisation (IPSO) are to conduct an industry wide IT review.

A Central Bank spokesman said: "In response to the Ulster Bank incident, the Central Bank has formally requested sign-off from all clearing banks that contingency plans are fully updated with regular testing.

"The Central Bank, in conjunction with IPSO, will conduct a review of the industry risk assessment process to further mitigate underlying risks."

It came as experts warned that other banks are vulnerable to similar problems which left 150,000 Ulster Bank customers locked out of their accounts.

National Irish Bank confirmed that it had a technical problem yesterday that prevented its customers accessing cash.

The cause of the problem was "promptly identified" and back up systems were put in place.

"In total, between identification of the issue and a complete recovery of the system, the technical issue would have been of less than three hours duration, but there was intermittent service during that period across the bank's services," it said.

AIB said that a technical glitch meant its systems were down for a number of hours between Thursday night and Friday morning.

Both banks insisted the problems were minor and were quickly rectified.


But according to UCD Smurfit School of Business expert Eamonn Walsh, this was a disaster waiting to happen.

"To be honest I think many people are surprised that such a thing (the IT failure) did not happen before. As one very eminent software engineer described it, these are essentially systems that are glued together by hope," he said.

Ulster Bank has also been called on to attend the powerful Oireachtas Finance Committee, to explain what happened.