Northern Ireland

Coalisland bank: Priests urge boycott of First Trust

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Media captionFr Benedict Fee said the closure would affect the vulnerable in society

Two Catholic priests are organising a boycott of First Trust Bank over plans to close a branch in County Tyrone.

The priests, from Coalisland and Clonoe, are planning to switch parish accounts to another bank and want their congregations to do the same.

The move follows plans to close the Coalisland branch of the First Trust Bank by the end of this year.

A spokeswoman for the bank said the branch was "no longer sustainable" and urged anyone concerned to contact them.

In a message posted in both parish bulletins last weekend, Fr Benedict Fee and Fr Paul Byrne said the move was an "attempt to encourage First Trust Bank to review their threat of closure to the banking services in Coalisland".

Fr Fee told the BBC there would be a "lot of repercussions" from the bank's decision.

"I do appreciate they are in the profit business, but also we are in the business of caring for people and trying to do our best for them and support them, particularly the elderly and the more vulnerable," he said.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption First Trust Bank is planning to close its branch in Coalisland

"The online people, it's not a problem for them, but for the elderly and people who aren't as hi-tech friendly, it will cause great inconvenience and stress."

He said there was a worry about security for older people if they opted to keep their money at home

"We want the bank to stay," he said.

Fr Fee of Clonoe and Fr Byrne, who is parish priest of Ballyclog and Donaghenry, took the decision after attending a public meeting about the branch closure, where local people and politicians voiced concern.

Both priests want their respective parishioners to back their campaign, and urged them to sign a petition against the closure in churches in both parishes at the weekend.

The petition reads: "If you are a First Trust customer, and only if you are a First Trust customer, will you stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, the weak and the aged?"

Fr Fee said they were urging the bank to re-consider the closure decision.

"I can't imagine the town of Coalisland without a bank and I think it's to the good of the First Trust that they would help the community grow and be vibrant and then also help to serve the people's needs and the people serve them too," he said.

In a statement to the Irish News, the bank said it did "not reach this decision lightly and that it only came after a long period of review".

"Whilst we appreciate this move will inconvenience some of our customers, the reality is that due to dramatically different banking behaviours, the branch was no longer sustainable," it said.

First Trust said the bank would continue to provide an ATM facility in Coalisland.