Ulster Bank has reported a big fall in operating profits in the first quarter of the year due to higher restructuring charges and reduced income on free funds.

The bank, which is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, said its operating profit for the three months to March fell to €32m from €78m the same time last year.

But the bank said it added a further €0.2 billion of gross new lending in the three month period, up 25% compared with the first quarter of 2016.

Restructuring costs at the bank rose by €31m to €39m due to its recent decision to close 22 branches across the country. 

The bank said that customer deposits in the first quarter rose by 21.1% to €2.1 billion, mainly due to an increase in commercial customer funding.

Ulster Bank said that risk elements in lending fell by €1.7 billion (29.8%) to €4 billion and was boosted by the sale of a portfolio of loans last year. 

As at the end of March, Ulster Bank said that risk elements in lending represented 17% of gross customer loans.