8 °CMon, 10

Protesters block Banagher bridge over proposed Eyrecourt Post Office closure

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karen.ogrady@midlandtribune.ie

About 500 people took part in a protest in Banagher on Sunday afternoon to highlight their opposition to the proposed closure of the post office in Eyrecourt.

The protesters, accompanied by about forty tractors, marched a distance of 1km from Esker Schoolhouse to Banagher bridge.

The protest blocked the bridge for an hour, preventing traffic from crossing.

An Post want to relocate the current postal service in Eyrecourt to Banagher, which is 11km away.

The organisers of the march said they are concerned about the impact of this closure on their community.

They said a store in Eyrecourt is willing to take on the services of the post office, but An Post had told them that this will not happen.

An Post confirmed that it has received an application from the community to maintain the service and this application is now under an independent review.

The Post Office in Eyrecourt has been run by the one family for the last 50 years and the postmaster has decided to take the voluntary redundancy scheme, which means the Post Office will close its doors for the last time at the end of January.

Campaigners like Dermot Duffy and Ellen Davis are determined to keep the doors open. Dermot said the post office could operate in his supermarket in the village, Duffy's XL. Ellen runs a pharmacy in the village and she says much of her business will be lost if the post office moves to Banagher.

The campaigners held a public meeting in Eyrecourt Hall two months ago which was packed to the rafters and was attended by three Teachta Dálas and several Councillors. During that meeting all the politicians committed to the cause.

Sunday's march to Banagher bridge stretched for a couple of miles, which showed what a live issue this is in the area. Tom Turley of Galway IFA addressed the crowd. He spoke about the importance of the Post Office to the local community. Deputy Anne Rabbitte said she is 100 per cent with the protesters.

Speaking to the Tribune after the protest Dermot Duffy said his family has been running a store in the village for 110 years. “I have been working in the shop for the last 38 years, since I was 16 years of age. I am passionate about the area, about the parish. If we lose our Post Office it will be a death knell for us.

“The people making these abhorrent decisions are never looking at the bigger, human picture. We need to look at that picture. This will be another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland. Rural Ireland has been under siege for years now. Nothing comes easy. We have to fight for everything. There are many isolated, lonely people living in rural Ireland and services like Post Offices are important social outlets for them. It is immoral to remove vital services like that from their lives. It's like the human body. If you remove one of its organs it finds it very hard or impossible to function. We have to stop the removal of these vital organs from our communities.

“An Post have an agenda, which they call their Terms of Reference. According to these Terms villages must have a population of 500 or more to operate a Post Office. In Eyrecourt we only have 300. The Terms also say there can't be another Post Office in a nearby village or town which is less than 15 kilometres away. Unfortunately the Post Office in Banagher is 11 kilometres away.”

Dermot pointed out that the road from Eyrecourt to Banagher sometimes floods during the winter and is impassable. Ballinasloe is 16 kilometres away.

He said several Post Offices have been closed down in the area over the last five or six years, including the Post Offices at Tiernascragh, Laurencetown, Clonfert and Kiltormer.

He added that they expect the decision by the Independent Reviewer to be negative. “Well, firstly, he is not much of an independent reviewer because he has been appointed by An Post. That is not very independent. Secondly, he will keep to the Terms of Reference which are unfair and restrictive.”

While the system seems to be unfeeling, uncaring, and seriously against them, the campaigners are taking some comfort from the positive result for Ballinskelligs in Kerry recently. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that the decision to close the post office in that small community in South Kerry had been reversed by An Post. The confirmation followed an intense community campaign which involved the petitioning of politicians and An Post. “It shows you the strength of people power,” said one of the Ballinskelligs campaigners. “Hopefully it will give hope to other small rural communities fighting to keep their post offices open.”

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