BEWLEY'S TO DOUBLE GRAFTON STREET CAPACITY - Bewley's on Grafton Street is set to double its capacity from this morning with the opening of the upper floors of its famous cafe.

This will allow it to cater for another 240 customers at a time, and to serve up to 1 million customers a year. It should also do away with the daily queues that have formed since it partially reopened last November, following a €12 million refurbishment. The new space will open at 10am and includes the James Joyce room, which has a balcony overlooking bustling Grafton Street. Bewley's is bracing itself for a busy few weeks, with Six Nations rugby match with Scotland on Saturday followed by Mother's Day on Sunday. This will be followed by the St Patrick's Day weekend, which is usually the busiest time of the year after Christmas, and then the Easter break. "We’re expecting a very busy time," artist and Bewley’s owner Patrick Campbell told The Irish Times. Bewley's chief executive John Cahill said the cafe has traded strongly since re-opening and is on target to increase its annual revenues to between €9 million and €10 million a year compared with €5.5 million annually before it closed in early 2015.

BANK OF IRELAND BLAMES 'TECHNICAL GLITCH' AS CASH VANISHES FROM CUSTOMER ACCOUNTS - Bank of Ireland yesterday insisted that money apparently missing from customer accounts was a result of a "technical processing issue" and not a cyberattack.

The lender rushed to correct the fault which caused panic and distress to a number of customers and disrupted payments. A number of agitated Bank of Ireland customers contacted the Irish Independent claiming money paid into their accounts had disappeared. One woman said her wages, which were paid into her personal account last week, appeared to have been wiped. When she contacted Bank of Ireland she was told the missing funds were caused by a "computer error". Another customer said tens of thousands of euro in a business account had suddenly disappeared, which he only discovered when a business payment was declined. The customer, who wished to remain anonymous, slammed what he described as the bank's abysmal customer service and communications. He said customers were forced to do "all the footwork" in relation to the source of the problem, and endured "the embarrassment of payments being declined" while Bank of Ireland made no attempt to "contain a significant IT issue". There were also reports of customers being challenged over payments into accounts - with the bank allegedly instructing customers to check whether payments had in fact been made, despite records documenting the transfers. Affected Bank of Ireland customers claimed the problem emerged on Tuesday. However, a spokesperson for Bank of Ireland declined to detail or clarify the scale of the computer error or detail when it occurred.

BANKS TAP HUGE MARGIN ON BUY-TO-LETS - A huge gap between the low-interest rates that UK banks charge landlords for their buy-to-let (BTL) loans and the elevated levels charged in Ireland has widened to record levels, as Irish lenders tap a huge premium on their loans.

Citing figures from price-comparison website,, BTL fixed-rates in the UK have returned to record lows, said John Cronin, UK banking expert at Goodbody. However, despite the huge margins apparently available in Ireland, he believes the chances of a UK lender, with a focus on landlords, entering the Irish market are slender, writes the Irish Examiner. Britain's average buy-to-let, five-year fixed rate fell to 3.43% this month, returning to the record lows of October, 2017, as a wide range of lenders in Britain, who cater for landlords, vie to attract borrowers re-mortgaging from two-year fixed rates, after the UK increased stamp duty on landlord properties two years ago. Mr Cronin said that the five-year fixed rate was a popular choice for British landlords, because the UK stress-tests utilised by UK banks do not apply. That, in turn, has led to banks increasing the number of five-year products. 

VIRGIN ATLANTIC TAKES US FLIGHT FIGHT TO RIVALS WITH FARE FOR HAND BAGGAGE ONLY - Virgin Atlantic is fighting back against the rise of low-cost competitors with its first hand-baggage only ticket for those wanting a cheap flight across the Atlantic.

The UK carrier, founded by Richard Branson, has announced plans to launch three new economy fares as it looks to defend its position in the market from long-haul budget rivals such as Norwegian Air Shuttle. Traditional transatlantic carriers are under increasing pressure from low-cost airlines such as Norwegian and WestJet, which have disrupted the market for long-haul travel in the same way that Ryanair and EasyJet have done for short-haul in Europe, says the Financial Times. Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said its economy revamp will give it the capability to offer a very low fare that will be "intensely competitive". "We don't feel we need to create a new airline, we feel we can offer a great Virgin experience at a price people wouldn’t necessarily expect," he said. Norwegian, in particular, has become a force in the European airline industry over the past few years, bringing down the cost of long-haul flying and forcing rivals to respond with their own budget services. Last year, International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, launched Level, a low-cost transatlantic brand in response to this competition. Last week, the group also announced that, from April, it will introduce a basic hand baggage-only fare for transatlantic flights on BA and Iberia, its Spanish airline brand.