Postmasters’ union unimpressed by Naughten’s ‘vague’ address
Minister sounds positive note about future opportunities but not all are receptive
General secretary of the Irish Postmaster’s Union Ned O’Hara and president Paddy McCann in Westport, Co Mayo. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus
Postmasters politely applauded Minister for Communications Denis Naughten after he contributed via video link to their annual conference at the weekend but they subsequently expressed disappointment over the “vagueness” of his contribution.
Ned O’Hara, general secretary of the Irish Postmasters’ Union, said Mr Naughten had not outlined how many post offices would remain open following An Post’s rationalisation programme.
An Post chief executive David McRedmond told workers last month the company will make a loss again next year despite the 28 cent rise in the cost of a stamp unless action is taken. He said downsizing will have to take place at the company. It was clear when he joined the company last year “that An Post was heading rapidly for insolvency”.
The Minister struck a positive note when he addressed delegates, reassuring them “it is Government policy that An Post remain a strong, viable, company providing a high-quality nationwide, postal service.”
Mr Naughten spoke in optimistic terms of local post offices as “a gateway” to the world digitally. He explained that on foot of an agreement he had signed with Eir, within the next eight weeks 97 per cent of all post offices in the country would have access to high speed broadband, leaving just 33 sub-post offices without such access.
Rather than seeing high-speed broadband as a threat to the network, it had the potential to revolutionise the sector, the Minister said.
“We need to return post offices to a place that people will want to visit regularly, not just at Christmas and not just when they are going on holiday,” he added.
Mr Naughten said there was a major opportunity to provide digital assistance to people who have never used the internet.
There would also be opportunities in the private sector as well as in banking and financial services, he said. “I am looking forward to working with you in the coming weeks, putting a sustainable future in place,” Mr Naughten said.
Financial package needed
IPU president Paddy McCann stressed to the Minister the union’s willingness to engage in the talks process with An Post management but said a financial package to support postmasters is needed.
“We have doubts, Minister, but we are prepared to engage,” Mr McCann stated. “However, we are not prepared to accept unilateral implementation that will drive us out of business.”
A sombre assessment of the current situation facing postmasters was given by Waterford delegate Thomas Martin. He said union members are facing difficult decisions in the coming months: do they stay or do they go?
At 52, Mr Martin outlined, he was getting out. “I decided three years ago the system was broken. I still think it is broken and it is going to get worse. I decided to go. I can’t wait to go.
“We have not had an increase in our salaries since 2006. As far as I am concerned, enough is enough. Will I get another job somewhere? I will, because I have a big mouth and a thick neck.”
Delegates were strident in their opposition to the planned introduction of Smartcard services in post offices in the absence of an overall agreement.
Mr O’Hara warned: “If An Post try to introduce Smartcard without an overall agreement, we will have no option but to resist.”