Postmaster fears businesses will close over mail sorting changes

Centralisation will cost small post offices up to €8,000 per year, Cork councillor warns

According to Rockchapel, Co Cork, postmaster Henry Keogh, the decision by An Post to consolidate mail sorting for Rockchapel at a new centre in Boherbue will threaten post office’s viability. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

According to Rockchapel, Co Cork, postmaster Henry Keogh, the decision by An Post to consolidate mail sorting for Rockchapel at a new centre in Boherbue will threaten post office’s viability. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

“The saddest thing about this is that over the last 100 years or more, the post office supported a family here – my grandmother was one of a family of 16, my mother was one of eight and I myself reared four on the income from the post office, but all that will end now with me.”

Postmaster Henry Keogh is reflecting on the changes taking place in An Post that lead him to believe that he will be the last postmaster in Rockchapel in the northwest corner of Co Cork, where his family has been running the post office since the 1890s.

“My great-grandfather Denis Curtin was the first to run the post office here and then his daughter Molly took it over, and my mother Cathleen took it over, and I took it over from her in 1981, but none of mine are going to come back to here to run it for what I get paid and I can’t say I blame them.”

According to Henry, the recent decision by An Post to consolidate mail sorting for Rockchapel at a new centre in Boherbue will prove decisive in reducing the post office’s viability, resulting he reckons in a loss of about 25 per cent on his income, already falling by 10 per cent per annum.

“We have four lines of business in post offices – savings and investment, social welfare payments, mails and bill pay. Social welfare accounts for about 60 per cent of business, but mails accounts for 25 per cent and if that is taken away, then the place is hardly viable,” he explains.

According to former Cork North-West Fine Gael TD, Cllr Gerard Murphy – whose wife Marian runs Newmarket post office – the sorting of mail by postmen in small local post offices such as Rockchapel, Knocknagree, Kiskeam and Ballydesmond is worth between €5,000 and €8,000 per year.

Routes

“An Post decided to start sorting mail for the smaller Duhallow post offices in Boherbue, so you now have 20 odd postmen operating out of there, sorting their mail before going back to their own areas to deliver it, but that means the local post offices will lose €5,000 to €8,000 each per annum.

“That’s going to be a huge problem for the smaller post offices, as that income is the difference between them being viable and not being viable; they are going from being a sorting hub to a front-of-house service and they won’t be able to survive on that alone,” he says.

Henry Keogh agrees and points out he is currently working a 55-hour week at the post office, which he combines with a small shop, but with the loss of payment for sorting work, his rate of pay will go from around €10 an hour to something like €7 an hour – less than the national minimum wage.

Add in costs and expenses such as rates, electricity and insurance, which continues to rise, allied to a continuing drop in postal business, Mr Keogh reckons when his contract comes up for its triannual review with An Post, it will hardly be worth his while – or anyone else’s – applying for it.

“The effect of this change is that small posts are not going to be viable when the sorting is taken from them, and you have to ask what is the reason for this: the system is working perfectly well as far as I can see because I have never had a complaint over the counter about deliveries in 35 years.”

An Post strongly denies that the decision to consolidate mail sorting will lead to the closure of small rural post offices such as Rockchapel and an An Post spokesman says that consolidation, which has been a feature of the service for many years, is intended to improve mail delivery.

Upgrading

The An Post spokesman says that the move to larger sorting centres also offers better working conditions for staff and he points out that it also frees up space in local post offices, which can be put to alternative commercial or private use by the postmaster.

The spokesman adds that the move is one response to the fact that there has been a 35 per cent drop in mail volumes since 2007, while there has also been a change in the profile of mail, with fewer letters but more and larger parcels – due to online shopping – which require more spacious sorting offices.

“An Post does not believe that mails consolidation is a significant factor in the viability of its retail offices. It is true that offices do suffer a reduction in remuneration when postmen are relocated, but postmasters are financially compensated for same,” said the spokesman.

Questioned about the compensation, the An Post spokesman agreed that it was a for a maximum of two years, but said many postmasters welcomed the fact that they no longer had to provide early morning attendances for the sorting work.

The spokesman aid An Post continued to invest in its mail and retail networks in 2015, with 43 offices being completely refurbished, and while local mail delivery services were relocated to purpose-built delivery service units in 17 areas, only six post offices had closed.

But Mr Keogh is unimpressed and says the consolidation of mail sorting is but the latest in a series of cuts to services to rural Ireland that is gradually leading to a decline of once vibrant communities, as various agencies of the State withdraw and centralise operations.

“The Garda station is gone, the nearest bus service is 10 miles away, the nearest rail service is 20 miles away, so this is just the latest cut at rural Ireland. At the rate we are going the only one from any State agency we will have any contact will be the tax inspector,” he says with a rueful smile.