Government facing Dail vote on post office aid

Minister defends closures as Fianna Fail outlines ‘grave concerns’ for rural areas

Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke

The Government will be forced into a Dail vote on providing financial support to rural post offices.

Fianna Fail wants the network to adopt a model similar to the UK where Post Office Ltd is obliged to maintain services over a larger network than would be commercially viable. This is facilitated with government funding.

A Dail vote before the next Budget will also call on the Government to advertise new postmaster contracts, appropriate to each area, in communities where postmasters are retiring.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has defended the closure of 159 rural post offices. He told the Sunday Independent the entire network was five months from going under before the Government took action in 2016.

“There is nobody more aware of the needs of people in rural Ireland than I am,” he said. “I come from one of the most rural constituencies in the country and I fully understand the impact declining business and customer footfall is having on the post office network.”

He said restructuring has been key to maintaining the post office network. This included expanding operations to a six-week service and raising the cost of stamps to €1.

“An Post was within five months of going under with the loss of thousands of jobs and the complete shut-down of the postal service and network.

“Under the protocol that I sought and which was agreed between the Irish Postmasters Union and An Post, if a postmaster does not want to continue to provide a service and avails of a voluntary severance package then any retailer or business within that community can apply to take up the post office services but if not, the business would be transferred to the nearest post office.”

The national mail carrier said it was open to engaging with shops and businesses in the 159 rural towns and villages if they were willing to offer An Post services.

A spokeswoman for An Post said viable commercial proposals will be fully considered.

It comes as Galway TD Sean Canney, who supports the Government on key votes and budgetary matters, told the Sunday Independent he will question Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the closures at a meeting next week.

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“Where we have our existing post offices, the public needs to support them. There is a change in how we do business in this country and that is a challenge for post offices.

“I will be raising the issue with the Taoiseach at my next meeting and I have also spoken to Minister Naughten.”

Meanwhile, it is the Dail vote that will be of most concern to Government. Clare TD Dr Michael Harty has threatened to pull his support for the Government if plans to close post offices continue. He has called for community banking services to be made available to rural communities via An Post outlets.

The Fianna Fail motion which will be voted on when TDs return to Leinster House later this month calls on the Government to ensure everyone has access to post offices, to roll out new services and prevent the loss of post offices in rural communities.

It will also call on TDs to recognise that previous schemes reducing post office numbers were based on population decline and labelled the current closures a “premeditated programme to reduce the number of post offices in rural areas”.

However, An Post has committed to opening five new post offices in areas where the population has increased.

Fianna Fail’s communications spokesman Timmy Dooley wrote to Mr Naughten last week outlining his “grave concerns” for rural areas affected by the closures.

“The retention criteria being advanced, of a Post Office for every village with a population over 500 and within 15km of citizens, is unacceptable and if implemented would place an intolerable burden on many people including the older and more vulnerable members of rural communities that have already suffered service loss of Garda Stations and smaller schools during the economic downturn,” Mr Dooley wrote.

Sunday Independent

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