The Financial Services Union has criticised a refusal by the Minister for Health to make the wearing of face coverings in banks, post offices and credit unions compulsory for customers.

General Secretary of the union, John O'Connell, said the Minister’s decision was stupid, dangerous and ill-informed.

"The Ministers response is a slap in the face for bank staff who are having to work in an environment that puts their health at risk without the protection of a legal requirement for customers to wear a face covering," he said.

"Our members are incensed that they are been treated differently to other workers in the retail sector."

In a response to a parliamentary question submitted by Labour’s Finance Spokesman, Ged Nash, health minister Stephen Donnelly said public health and security were the reasons why the rules would not be changed.

Mr Donnelly said it is recommended that face coverings are worn by people in situations where physical distancing may not be possible.

But he said that by their nature, these locations are controlled environments where social distancing for members of the public should be attainable. 

"There are also security requirements in terms of ensuring the identities of people entering a financial institution," he added.

However, Mr O'Connell said the health minister in Northern Ireland had amended the regulations there months ago and there had been no reports that it has become a security concern.

"The Banks in the Republic of Ireland are asking customers to wear face covering so they obviously have no security concerns either," he stated.

Mr O’Connell added that Mr Donnelly should publish the advice upon which is response is based.

"This decision shows a complete disregard for the health and safety of banking, credit union and An Post staff who have continued to serve their communities in the midst of rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers," Mr Nash said.

"There seems to be no logic to this decision. Security concerns have been alluded to, but if those in other customer facing settings are required to wear masks then why not in banks too so as to protect staff?"