Vast swathes of the country will be left without a post office if the An Post proposals come to pass. That’s the view of Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesperson, Timmy Dooley following An Post’s €50 million vision for the future.
The company believes this deal, which has the support of the Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) will secure the network of 1,000 post offices however it has been reported that it could also lead to 2,000 job losses over the next four years.
Both Deputy Dooley and Clare’s Independent TD, Dr Michael Harty, are opposed to the measures being proposed by An Post. According to Dr Harty, “Effectively, what is being offered to the postmasters amounts to compulsory closure. They are being given a Hobson’s choice by virtue of the fact that unacceptable financial burdens are being placed on them to sign new contracts, remain on the existing contracts with diminishing incomes or take the exit package, which is completely unacceptable to most postmasters and postmistresses who have 20, 30 or 40 years’ service.”
Once again the withdrawal of services from rural Ireland is high on both men’s agenda. For Deputy Dooley, it is clear that the Government is unwilling to block An Post’s proposals to close up to 300 post offices in rural Ireland. “Rural Ireland.” he said, “is being left to wither and die by Fine Gael and their independent friends.”
While many postmasters have been offered sweetheart delays to retire, Deputy Dooley said these communities are not guaranteed that a replacement contract will be put out to tender. Deputy Dooley believes that post offices cannot be seen simply as commercial ventures operating under normal profit and loss criteria. They “are much more than that. They are service hubs and meeting points for rural, and sometimes, isolated communities. Post offices are the lifeblood of rural communities.”
Dr Harty shares that view, he believes that more Government services should be devolved to the post office and new, meaningful, services must be developed that are of use to communities. Recalling a commitment to community banking in the Programme for Government, Dr Harty said this has been discussed for two years but nothing has been done about delivering a community banking network.
Dr Harty says the post office is often the last financial institution in a community and its loss will fatally damage the viability of a community as people move their business to larger centres. According to Dr Harty, operators of 14 post offices in Clare have been offered exit packages and are being asked to leave the service when they do not want to do so. He believes that post offices should not be subject to market forces but should have extra services, including a community banking service, in order to be sustainable.