Rural post office closures top of agenda for communication committee

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The closure of rural post offices was a key point of discussion at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment earlier this week as rural communities feel "slap in the face" over closures.
Scheduled to take place on Tuesday afternoon, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten and representatives from An Post were brought before the committee to discuss the recent decision to close 159 rural post offices including five in Offaly.
The Independent Postmasters Union were also expecting to make a presentation to the committee and its chairperson, Tom O'Callaghan expressed his utter disappointment at this recent announcement by An Post to the Tribune prior to this meeting.
"A Dail motion was passed in November 2016 that we personally negotiated.... what it clearly stated at the time was a five year holding plan, the implementation of Government contracts within the Post office. And, the most important part of all of this, the implementation of a brand new bank, community based, owned by the state for the benefit of local people and resources.
"And, more to the point, a holding plan while all of this was being implemented. And, it's being totally ignored and here we are looking at, not just 159 office closures but looking at 390 closures [let's be clear on this 390 post offices have not been offered a contract]," he claimed.
Local representatives expressed their anger and disappointment at the news last week. Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen described the closures as a "slap in the face for rural communities". The Offaly TD said communities in the county are deeply worried for their future and viability as a number of local post offices are set to close in the coming weeks and months.
"The Government is attempting to lay the blame on An Post for the potential closure of post offices in Geashill, Moneygall, Mount Lucas, Pollagh and Walsh Island," said Deputy Cowen.
"Over the past seven years we have seen the closure of Garda stations, banks and even small schools, as this government forces through its Dublin focused agenda. When the An Post restructuring was first announced, there was a lot of hand wringing by other TDs. They said all would be OK, but as it turns out, the An Post decision to close these post offices seems final."
Continuing, Deputy Cowen re-iterated that post masters and post mistresses were "absolutely entitled" to take their redundancy packages. "They more than deserve them. However, there is no excuse for An Post not to offer replacement contracts to other people willing to keep the post office open."
"I would urge all those living in these communities who are concerned about the closure of their local post office to take part in the independent review. Information on how to appeal these decisions can be found on the An Post website, or in my constituency office. I would be happy to work with any local groups of residents to seek to overturn this decision by An Post."
Concluding, the Fianna Fail TD said the closure of post office in Offaly and across the rest of rural Ireland was a "major threat" to the viability of these communities. " An Post have been allowed to make these decisions without any regard to the future of these rural communities," concluded Cowen.
His constituency colleague, Deputy Carol Nolan also expressed her concern over threats to the county's post offices. She stated: "Our post offices are a central, basic and vital part of many rural towns and villages throughout this state. It is unacceptable that the government are standing idly by when urgent action and fulfilment of their obligations is required by rural communities which have borne the brunt of too many cuts to basic services over the last few years."
Deputy Nolan called on Deputy Naughten and the Government to honour the fact that a motion calling for a five year holding plan to be put in place to save our post offices had been passed in the Dail.
"The Minister or his government cannot shirk their responsibilities they must implement this five year holding plan as soon as possible in order to give our post offices some chance of survival," the independent TD continued.
Deputy Nolan was in contact with Tom O'Callaghan from the Independent Postmasters group and she's fully supportive of the group. In relation to cases where post offices were closing due to the current uptake of redundancy packages, Deputy Nolan said it was imperative that replacement contracts were offered to people in our communities who were interested in taking up the role.
Deputy Nolan concluded by emphasising that everything must be done to ensure that the post office network was protected as the post offices offer a valuable service that "we in rural Ireland cannot afford to lose, there is an onus on the government to listen to rural communities who have been ignored and neglected for too long".
Local councillor, Peter Ormond pointed out the post office in Moneygall, which is due to close, has been in operation since the foundation of the state and was left disappointment by the news it would now close its doors.
Cllr Ormond urged people to continue to support the post office network and hoped the people, who currently use Moneygall post office will use in Dunkerrin post office now. He then paid tribute to all past postmasters in Moneygall and to the current operator, Pat & Mary Bergin, who operated the service with distinction for a number of years.
"In the last number of months, the postmasters voted to accept a deal that has resulted in a number of post masters accepting a package that will see them retire from the business and the business located elsewhere. The closure of Post Offices will have a negative impact on rural Ireland and in particular villages like Moneygall. The closure of this business adds to a number of businesses that has closed in recent years and this trend needs to be reversed and for villages like Moneygall to become vibrant again."
"We have seen in the last number of years a reduction in the services available in Post Offices and the business model that An Post are currently operates is making it difficult for postmasters to operate and make a profit."
The Fianna Fail councillor noted the Minister was the main shareholder of An Post and they had missed "several opportunities in the past to support" the organisation. "For example ,there was no reason why the government couldn't award the driving licence to the network. No reason why more government business couldn't be done in the network as opposed to banks.
" We have seen every service being offered in the Post Office been offered elsewhere. Recently, we have seen passports, dog licences, being made available online. Participants on Government operated schemes are been forced to open a bank account as opposed to getting their money in the post office. An Post are tendering for contracts from the Department of Social Protection and then giving people the option of money been paid directly to their bank account, by-passing the post office."
Cllr Ormond said the Minister needed to intervene to ensure that An Post has a "viable model" and they have products that will increase the viability of the post master.
Meanwhile, Debbie Byrne, Managing Director of An Post Retail said that An Post was committed to ensuring the sustainability and viability of the Post Office network and would move now to offer more new and innovative services to customers through the reconfigured network. "An Post is very grateful for the contribution of the Postmasters over so many years. We will work with the communities that they have served to ensure that their needs continue to be met by An Post for the future."
“The An Post team has done painstaking work combining business and demographic data with extensive local knowledge to produce a network plan which actively supports the future of rural Ireland. We are committed to ensuring a vibrant network for all our customers through investment and the expansion of e-commerce, financial and government services to drive usage and relevancy of the post office in today's changing environment", she added.


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