ATM outage at Bank of Ireland spurs bank run rumours

Yesterday’s ATM problems at Bank of Ireland were not a one-off event. But the reaction to the outage, with customers unable to access savings, may say something fundamental about how jittery we have become.

This reporter remembers well a wet November evening in 1990 when the ATM machines had a nervous breakdown. Customers queued at the cash machines, making withdrawals, smiling furtively at each other as the word spread.

The hangover in the days that followed, as the bank went after customers for unauthorised withdrawals, did not diminish the fun of the story.

At a time before the Celtic Tiger, it was a fun news story, a bit of cheer in the gloom. Yesterday was different.

As word of the outages spread across Facebook, Twitter, and by word of mouth and mobile phone, the reaction was one of nervousness.

“Is this what the start of a bank run looks like?” one commenter wondered on twitter.

The situation was worsened by the lack of coverage on the story, as blanket budget coverage pushed every other story into the background.

A brief press release which gave little information beyond that the bank had “an unforeseen technical issue” did little to calm nerves.

Online banking and phone banking were also affected by the problems, with some customers unable to access their accounts at all, while others were able to make multiple withdrawals at bank teller machines.

But it wasn’t all worry. TCD economist Brian Lucey used his twitter account in reference to the budget: “Fade to: Brian Lenihan, huddled over a Bank of Ireland ATM, making multiple withdrawals from the nation’s account to pay banks’ debts.”

“The bank says this is a glitch,” said Simon McGarr, a Dublin based solicitor. “It is also exactly what one would expect to happen if it was about to fall. So, if it isn’t about to fall it is a disaster.

“Unlike ever before, the country is expecting a bank to collapse. What will happen when the limit is lifted? Everyone leaves.

“The difference now is that there is no confidence in promises to support the banks. None in markets, none with customers. Trust has been frittered away by lies.

“Once you start lying about a banking system and everyone knows you’re lying, then you have no credibility when you need to tell the truth.”