The Financial Services Union has accused the NatWest Group of using Covid-19 as cover to manufacture a crisis around the future of its Ulster Bank subsidiary here.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach today, general secretary John O'Connell  also said it was regretful that Ulster Bank had declined an invitation to attend the committee hearing.

The NatWest Group is currently conducting a strategic review into the future of Ulster Bank here, which it has been reported includes considering a possible wind down of the Republic of Ireland operations.

"It seems clear that NatWest have decided to use Covid-19 as a cover to prioritise some other agenda over any long-term strategy," he said.

"They have decided that staff, customers, and communities in the Republic of Ireland are of little significance. To be blunt they have manufactured a crisis using Covid-19 as cover."

Mr O’Connell said it will be too late when the decision is made and collective action is needed now in the national interest, and to protect customers, staff, and communities.

The union boss said his organisation and workers had found it difficult to get answers from NatWest about what is going on.

"The Bank has again and again, throughout this process, refused to engage with us on what is actually going on," he said.

"It has been the media, through strong reporting, that has kept us, and indeed you, informed about elements of the process. So much remains uncertain, unclear, unexplained."

He called on the Minister for Finance to contact his counterpart in the UK to express the Government's opposition to NatWest selling any part of Ulster Bank to a vulture fund.

"We know the damage that a vulture fund can do," he said.

"There should be no place in Irish banking for vulture funds."

Mr O’Connell also referred to the role of the Central Bank, saying a new code of consumer protection that protects customers and consumers is needed.

"The last few months have seen all the main banks in Ireland announce reviews of their operations," he said.

"They all have something in common. They are all looking to close branches and cut staffing levels. Bankers are writing the future of banking in front of our eyes."

"We know where that got us before. We cannot allow this to happen again," he said, adding that political engagement is need to protect jobs, communities, vital commercial infrastructure and a competitive banking system.

Mr O’Connell said the union would shortly launch a discussion paper on the establishment of a National Banking Forum where the future direction of the sector here could be discussed.