Beneath the portico outside the shopping mall in Donabate town centre, a light mounted to the wall shines down on a large rectangular hole.
A dull grey sheet of metal covering it has already been graffitied, just a month since the ATM machine was pulled out.
The ATM machine on Donabate’s Main Street had been both the sole outdoor and 24-hour cash dispenser in the town.
In late September, it was suddenly removed by the service provider, Brinks Ireland, says Suzanne Young, a local area representative for the Green Party. “We hadn’t received any warning of it.”
Brink’s Ireland hasn’t responded to queries about its removal.
But local councillor Paul Mulville of the Social Democrats says it highlights a need to regulate the operation of ATM services, both connected to and independent of commercial banks.
Regulation is something the government has been working on, following a review of retail banking in November 2022. But the details of what level of services may be mandated, and how it will work, have not yet been published.
While the use of cash has steadily declined, only 11 percent of consumers do not use it at all, according to the Department of Finance.
Elderly people and those without digital access to their finances are dependent on it, particularly in more rural parts, says Green Party local area representative Suzanne Young. “There is a concern that if a provider can just pull out, it leaves that social facility very vulnerable.”
Allied Irish Bank used to operate the ATM machine outside the Donabate town centre.
In February 2020 – in line with a wider trend that has seen retail banks offload most of their ATMs – the bank announced it was selling its off-site network, meaning the machines outside of its own branches, to Brinks.
The Main Street machine wasn’t the only one in Donabate. But there wasn’t another one outdoors or that provided round-the-clock access to cash on the whole peninsula, says local Pauline Wong.
There is one inside the SuperValu, and another is in a petrol station outside the town centre, she says. “But that’s a little far out.”
The machine on Main Street was removed on the last Friday in September, says local Mulville, the Social Democrats councillor. “A neighbour of mine walked by and said they’re after taking the ATM out.”
As far as he knows, the provider has no plans to put in a new one, says Mulville. “It was gone. That was it.”
Said Corina Johnston, a Labour local area representative: “What they said to me was that it was no longer viable.”
Wong says she didn’t give it much thought at first until she had a few things to pay for that needed cash. “A lot of the local businesses don’t take card, like the Chinese restaurant.”
That the town has lost its one 24-hour cash machine is a real inconvenience, says Linda Foley. “I’m not a major user. But I used it on occasion, and my kids have used it many times while in taxis from town.”
Donabate’s financial services are limited, with just a post office operating within the town, Wong says. “There isn’t a bank. You’ll have to go to Lusk or Malahide.”
Young, the Green Party representative, says that once the outside ATM was removed, the machine inside SuperValu was put under major pressure.
The shop did not have an opportunity to change the schedules for restocking cash, she says. “Their supervisor was trying to manage the situation, because it happened so suddenly that he had a massive increase in demand.”
“The problem then is that their machine is only available during opening hours,” she says.
Brinks Ireland did not respond when asked why they closed the Main Street ATM at short notice, or if there were plans to install a new machine.
According to Young, its lease on the space had expired. She is concerned, she says, that they’ll see more sudden removals in the future.
“It definitely needs to be better managed than just suddenly a cash machine going without any warning,” said Young.
It leaves older people, and those without digital access to money, more vulnerable, she says. “Particularly in more rural communities, it will be more difficult.”
Johnson says her mother regularly used that particular ATM. “She actually used it a lot around Christmas time, and that’s been taken away from her and older people who heavily rely on using cash.”
Mary Conneely, a local, says the sudden action on Brinks’ behalf impacts those who don’t use smartphones or who aren’t internet savvy.
“When AIB stopped providing this service, at least they put an alternative in its place,” she said.
Donabate’s population is 9,669 people, according to CSO figures from 2022.
A major new housing project near Malahide estuary is expected to bring 3,000 more residents to the area, so the town is growing rapidly, says Conneely. “A functioning ATM is essential for the town.”
Says Wong: “The facilities haven’t caught up yet.”
Even as Ireland’s population grows, people are overall using less cash. But many still do rely on it.
The value of ATM withdrawals in Ireland is now at about two-thirds of the pre-pandemic average level, but remains stable at a lower level, said the Central Bank of Ireland in its submission to the government review last year.
Mulville, the Social Democrats councillor, says protections need to be put in place around access to cash.
“There’s no regulation around ATMs, or that a certain number of ATMs need to be available to an area with a certain population,” he said.
Central Bank research in June 2022 found that roughly 87 percent of the population lived within 5km of an ATM. That put Ireland in the bottom five of 19 European Union countries, when it comes to population within 5km of an ATM, the research found.
Given that doesn’t take into account demographics and local footfall, it isn’t a definitive measure of whether there is sufficient access to cash, the Central Bank has said. Work is ongoing on how best to calculate that, they said.
On 12 October at a Dáil Éireann debate on the banking sector, Minister of State Joe O’Brien, a Green Party TD, asked if there are any regulations in place that stop providers from stripping out ATMs and potentially leaving communities without access to cash.
There aren’t at the moment, Finance Minister Michael McGrath said in response. But a government review had recommended that this be changed, and new access-to-cash legislation be drawn up, he said.
“With the initial objective of developing criteria that would secure access to cash at about the levels prevailing in December 2022 but also provide for such criteria to be amended appropriately in future as and when cash usage declines further,” said McGrath.
Heads of bill for this are due to be brought to the government to seek approval to draft the bill and submit it for pre-legislative scrutiny before the end of the year, he said.