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Thousands of bank jobs on the line as further cuts feared

FEARS were growing today that other banks would follow the lead of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) and slash costs by cutting jobs.

Thousands of jobs across the financial sector could now be on the line as the full impact of the British-owned bank's decision to axe 750 staff and close 44 retail Halifax branches is felt.

Early today Halifax customers started to arrive at branches wondering if their money was safe.

Michael Kinsella from Baldoyle was checking at the College Green branch, arriving before it opened.

"I'm a bit wary because I was stung before years ago in the 1980s with a kind of credit union thing that folded," Michael told the Herald.

Staff arriving for work at the College Green branch of Halifax would not comment on the closure.

Unions and analysts fear it is only a matter of time before Bank of Ireland and AIB announce redundancy schemes.

The country's two main banks are expected to make a significant cut in staff numbers later this year as they come under increasing pressure to raise billions of euro capital in the market in the coming months.

Other foreign-owned banks may follow the example of Bank of Scotland (Ireland). Already the Dutch owners of ACC Bank have said they see no future in Ireland, while Danish-owned National Irish Bank recently announced it was closing 25 of its 58 branches.

There are also fears that an expected merger of EBS and Irish Nationwide with a possible link to Permanent TSB could lead to as many as 1,000 extra job losses.

From today, Halifax will not accept any new customers and existing customers will be contacted by the end of the month to explain the position.

The company says the Halifax retail banking business is "simply too small to succeed in this contracting market".

"There is no strategy for this business that will see it achieve break-even or profit in a realistic timeframe. It still intends to maintain a strong presence in the corporate and commercial banking markets in Ireland."

Most of the planned 750 redundancies are expected to be on a compulsory basis with the balance being achieved through natural turnover, redeployment and voluntary redundancy.

The redundancy terms "remain the subject of consultation with Unite" but are likely under current contracts to be seven weeks pay per year of service, including the statutory or legal minimum entitlement up to a maximum of 130 weeks pay.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he regretted the job losses but was pleased that a substantial part of the business of Bank of Ireland Scotland will remain, with 850 jobs remaining.

See Dan White, page 14