Customers spit at Irish Life staff after rate rise

DUBLIN, July 24 Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:19pm BST

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DUBLIN, July 24 (Reuters) - Some customers of Irish Life & Permanent (IPM.I) shouted at branch staff and in one case spat on an employee on Friday after the bancassurer said it would raise mortgage rates, a union representing the workers said.

Irish banks, once the darling of the "Celtic Tiger" economy, have been the focus of public ire since a spectacular property bust and a slew of scandals left taxpayers footing a multibillion euro bill to save the industry.

Irish Life & Permanent, one of Ireland's largest mortgage providers, triggered a wave of criticism with plans to raise its variable interest rates by 0.5 percentage points next week.

"It has been a difficult day for staff," said Colm Quinlan of the UNITE trade union, which represents over 1000 branch workers at Irish Life's banking arm, permanent tsb.

"We have had a number of reports of intimidation today," Quinlan said.

A spokesman for the bancaussurer said they had no reports of any staff being attacked or abused.

Many Irish people are already struggling to repay large mortgages amid ballooning dole queues and rising taxes.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he was disappointed by Permanent TSB's decision but rebuffed a call from one leading trade unionist that the government withdraw its guarantee on bank liabilities for any lender that raises rates.

(Reporting by Carmel Crimmins)