The Oireachtas finance committee has heard calls for the Central Bank to initiate an independent investigation into the behaviour of Ulster Bank in dealing with business owners who were in financial distress during the economic crisis.

Businesswoman Jackie Lavin of the new Ulster Bank GRG Business Action Group believes viable businesses were forced to close by Ulster Bank.

The Business Action Group represents 60 companies in Ireland that were taken into the Ulster Bank Global Restructuring Group (GRG).

This was a division set up to deal with SMEs in financial distress who had borrowed between €1m and €25m.

Ms Lavin said the Central Bank needs to lead an independent investigation into the issue.

She said that a proper independent investigation needs to be set up so that compensation can be put aside, because it was now clear that viable businesses were brought down.

Ms Lavin, who is also involved in Glencullen Holdings and Bill Cullen Premier Cars, said 2,140 people were put into the GRG and only six came out.

She said she believed this was widespread and that Ulster Bank had a deliberate strategy for dealing with its customers.

The businesswoman claimed everything was stacked against people in courts where they went in as lay litigants against senior counsel on the other side.

Ms Lavin told the committee that what happened in Britain was a carbon copy of what has happened in Ireland.

She claimed there are cases where Ulster Bank/GRG was "more vociferous than they were in the UK”.

However, Ulster Bank disputes the figure offered by Ms Lavin for the number of people who exited its GRG and last month told the Oireachtas finance committee that around 100 people exited the programme.

In a statement, the lender added: “During the period 2008 to 2013, Ulster Bank granted extensive forbearance to the vast majority of the customers managed in GRG.

"This reflected the primary goal of the Bank to support customers who might return to viability when the recovery started to emerge.

"In line with the process under way in the UK, Ulster Bank is making the same supports available to our SME customers in GRG during that period. Ulster Bank strongly rejects any claims that businesses in GRG were artificially distressed by GRG and a number of independent reports have supported this conclusion.

"Ulster Bank did not have the facility to transfer loans to NAMA, unlike the covered Banks at the time.”

Ms Lavin also told the finance committee the new action group had been set up to highlight the plight of around 60 business people who have been affected after a "tsunami of receivers were appointed, businesses were closed and lives and families were ruined”.

She accused Ulster Bank of closing Irish businesses as part of a property and cash grab, and accused the bank of engineering defaults.

She said Glencullen Holdings Ltd had been a customer of Ulster Bank since 1990 and had never defaulted on a loan.

But, like most Irish companies, it came into cash flow problems in 2008.

She made a series of allegations against Ulster Bank for putting so much pressure on her business until it went into receivership.

Ms Lavin added: "We believe that there were preferred client deals on our properties."

She recalled: "We had a very successful viable company. We had prime sites all over the country.

"Our loan-to-value ratio had been reduced to about three times to the value of loans. We had a pragmatic view in that all our properties that were not producing were for sale. We were doing the right thing in terms of getting as much cash in to pay for the loans.

"They encouraged us to take the buyout from the main franchise.

"As soon as the company divested itself of the main franchise they then shut down shop and said we weren't allowed to carry on business anymore.”

She added: "We were extremely naive. People less well versed in business would have been more naive."