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Free exchange service

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — For years the hallowed halls of Ireland’s central bank in Dame Street, similar to the federal reserve in the U.S., have dealt with one customer, the Irish government. But under a little known clause in the Maastricht Treaty, it is now obliged to offer ordinary Euroland tourists the best value in town for changing their currency.

And the service is free.

Every central bank in the 11 countries is required under the treaty to change other euro currencies into local money without charging for the service.

Word about the little known bureau de change facility has spread since it first started on Jan. 4 and the number of people using it have doubled, though it still has very few customers.

The savings can be significant and there is no line.

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The commercial banks, travel agencies and other bureau de change facilities still charge hefty fees for the service.

There is no service available for currencies outside Euroland, like dollars or sterling, which are still fluctuating against the euro.

Bank spokesman Neil Whoriskey said a teller’s counter on the first floor, which up until now was used only for government transactions, is currently dealing with the transactions but a new teller’s counter will shortly open on the ground floor.

He said it was a relatively quiet time of the year for foreign transactions. "We may get busier on that side of things as the months progress, particularly around the summertime. At the moment we are averaging up to 10 customers a day from people coming in with their pesetas, francs or escudos and changing them into Irish currency.

"The service is aimed at the general public and is a part of a symbolic gesture toward the new currency in the treaty. It is not really aimed at hotels and other business that have occasion to

stockpile large amounts of foreign currency and cash."

He said the bank had set an upper limit per day of 1,000 euro which is the equivalent of approximately £788 Irish.

"We look forward to all our new visitors to the bank. It is not as daunting a place as some people think that it is," Whoriskey said.

In the past the general public had only dealt with the bank in situations where mangled bank notes might be swapped for new ones or commemorative coins were issued.

The bank is tightly protected and it is not a walk-in service. Customers first have to be cleared by security staff. "There is no major problem. People are in and out in about ten minutes," Whoriskey said.

The bank is also concerned about public access to the plaza at the base of the building which has become a popular meeting place as part of a night on the town in Temple Bar.

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