A section of the protest at the Bank of Ireland in Bunbeg today.
Up to 25 people took part in a protest in Gaoth Dobhair this afternoon against Bank of Ireland plans to remove the Irish language option from their newer ATMs.
“I think it’s a step backwards,” local Cllr. John Sheamais Ó Fearraigh said of the decision to remove the Irish language option.
The protest took place today, Friday, at the branch in Bunbeg, in the Donegal Gaeltacht. The protest was one of a number of protests organised by Sinn Féin today at bank branches across the country.
“All we want is for people using the language to be entitled to use the language, whether it is at ATMs or being able to speak the language at any bank in Ireland,” he said.
He said work is being done on the government’s 20-year strategy for Irish to promote the use of the language, and asked, “How is this going to move forward if we see agencies providing service to Gaeltacht areas cutting the language?”
Motorists passing by beeped their car horns in support of the protest.
In a statement, the Bank of Ireland said that over the past seven years the bank has been replacing older ATMs (withdrawal) with new LATMs (lodgement and withdrawal) devices nationwide. They said the process is in response to the demand from business and retail customers for increased access to 24/7 banking facilities.
The LATM devices do not offer an option to make a transaction in Irish, the Bank of Ireland said in their statement.
“This is due to the fact that, when we analyse our ATMs which provide an Irish option, fewer than 1 per cent of ATM transactions on those devices are completed in Irish,” Bank of Ireland said. “Given this low level of demand, since the commencement of this programme of replacement in 2010 it has not been viable to provide an Irish language option on these newer devices.”
Bank of Ireland continues to provide an Irish language option on all ATMs co-located within retail units, and on some ATMs located within the branch network, they said. They said they are the only Irish bank to provide the Irish language option on these devices.
In their statement, Bank of Ireland said they also support Irish-speaking customers by providing some key services in the Irish language, such as the provision of chequebooks, and withdrawal and lodgement dockets.
Earlier this week Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin TD and party finance spokesperson, urged Bank of Ireland to reverse its decision.
“The banking sector in general has been extremely poor at facilitating Irish language speakers and it’s impossible to get statements, online banking or any customer service in Irish anywhere,” Deputy Doherty said.
He said Bank of Ireland “was unique in making an effort to simply facilitate the Irish language at its ATMs with an Irish option and showed its customers that it placed some value on the language.”
However, he said, following the announcement about the ATMs, “the bank seems to be rowing back on this gesture and this shows a serious lack of consideration regarding the Irish language and the language rights of speakers”.