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24 January 2008 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Banks’ Euro exchange charges must be changed

PROPOSED Euro exchange charges on ATM withdrawals by Bank of Ireland, Northern Bank and Ulster Bank is just another example of the greed of some financial institutions in Ireland.
Not satisfied with the obscene multi-billion-pound annual profits, these particular banks have been resolute in their pursuit of even greater levels of profits. The latest proposal by these three banks who all use the Maestro (debit card) system to introduce a 2.65 per cent exchange plus 75p transaction charge to Northern customers who want to make Euro cash withdrawals is blatant profiteering and should be opposed by the financial regulators.
Recent exposure by the Office of Fair Trading in the North of illegal charging for unauthorised overdrafts resulted in the banks having to repay millions of pounds to customers.  This, unfortunately, is only one example of the slick practices that these institutions apply in order to maximise profits and dividends for shareholders. The fact is that the source of the majority of these profits comes from those on an average industrial wage who have to budget their expenditure very carefully.
There is a clear need for greater vigilance and scrutiny by government and financial regulators when it comes to the introduction of additional charges by banks and other financial institutions. Many customers have no idea how much they are really paying for their banking services.
Following the Good Friday Agreement, politicians and the governments have been endeavouring to build a single all-Ireland economy that will provide for seamless business and financial transactions and encourage greater mobility for workers and tourists throughout the island. These sorts of moves by the banks undermine all of that effort.
Sinn Féin is determined that irreversible progress continues in removing obstacles to cross-island mobility and Sinn Féin will lead the way in opposing and exposing action by any bodies or organisations that will place impediments to developing an all-Ireland economy.
Economic and social mobility patterns across the island demonstrate continued progress and it is essential that it continues without hindrance.
I recently welcomed the initiative taken at the North/South Ministerial Council in Dundalk where it was agreed to set up a working group to examine the whole issue of cross-border banking.
I now call on the NSMC to ask this working group to look into this latest service tariff proposal from these leading banks with a view to having it reversed. The integration of banking services is a natural progression in the development of an all-Ireland economy and I would encourage all banks doing business on the island of Ireland to develop services that will enhance, not inhibit, this progression.

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