Coalition urged to save post offices

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to establish an inter-departmental group to plan for the long-term survival of post offices.

The plea came yesterday from the Irish Postmasters’ Union. Its general secretary, Brian McGann, told some 50 TDs and Senators at a briefing in Leinster House that if action to formulate a strategy was not taken the post office network would disappear.

The union represents 90 per cent of the more than 1,000 postmasters in the State.

The future of post offices was not just for An Post to decide. It was for people to decide the network it wanted to serve the community, Mr McGann said.

Government “passing the buck to An Post” was a “cop-out” because it was not as simple as that, he added.

Maintaining the post office network was a political, social and economic issue.

Several TDs and Senators expressed concern over the closure of rural post offices.

Local people often found out about closures after the decision had been made, said Mr McGann.

“At the moment, as someone retires or dies”, a decision is made about the future of the post office, he said.

There needed to be discussions with communities well in advance of decisions, Mr McGann said.

Such closures were why there needed to be a strategy. The Government, as shareholder, needed to make a political decision and tell An Post “we want a better way of doing this”.

The social welfare contract, which is up for renewal next year, was the major potential challenge to post offices and the union wanted new revenue streams for the businesses, said Mr McGann.

He outlined proposals for outsourcing of payments such as motor tax and the household charge to the post office.

The additional payments proposed required the approval of several Government departments, he said. However, the payments were not technically difficult to implement.

Those departments needed to make it a priority to give people the option to use the network for payments, said Mr McGann.

The proposal could save the exchequer €53 million and increase post office business by 8 per cent, according a report by Grant Thornton, released in May.

The union had sought a meeting with Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan on the household charge payment, but this had not yet been granted, said Mr McGann.

If the household charge payment went to tender, he believed An Post could win it.