West Cork postmistress Bridie Roycroft last year refused to take an exit package and close her post office in Ballydehob as scores of others did in rural parts of the State.
Next to the hatch in the shop is a printed sign stating that the post office “needs your business to make it viable”, and encouraging people to call in and collect welfare payments such as pensions and child benefit rather than having them directly lodged to their bank accounts.
The sign also explains that a range of other services – such as AIB banking and bill payment – are available there to those who come in.
Among these is TV licence renewal and Ms Roycroft fears the Government’s decision to put the collection of this money, which is currently An Post’s responsibility, out to tender could be “another nail in the coffin” of rural Ireland.
“This is unbelievable,” said Ms Roycroft, who has worked in the Ballydehob post office for almost 40 years.
“What’s next? Will they take away social welfare payment? Is that the plan?... Soon there will be nothing left in the smaller towns and villages.”
The decision of Minister for Communications Richard Bruton to put the licence collection service out to tender does not necessarily mean the end for An Post, which is widely expected to bid for the five-year contract. Mr Bruton also said that people would still be able to purchase TV licences at post offices regardless of which organisation secures the contract.
The Irish Postmasters’ Union is also concerned about the development, saying the collection of TV licence fees is worth some €3 million to the post office network annually. Should the business be lost, it fears hundreds of post offices could be at risk of closure.
“If a major utility were to win the contract it is likely that it would push for a deduct-at-source approach, thereby removing the need for use of the post office,” the union’s general secretary Ned O’Hara said.
“Postmasters understand the revenue challenges faced by RTÉ and difficulties for An Post in collecting the fee. However, for many customers the current service is working perfectly well as it is, and postmasters greatly value this business.”
Ms Roycroft believes a pattern is emerging.
“It seems to me that the Government is working hard to make life more and more difficult for people living in rural Ireland,” she said, adding that she feels that her concerns about the viability of the business are being ignored.
“I am relying on the local people who have rallied to support the post office in Ballydehob, but if the Government continues to remove more, and move services, the community will have to travel to bigger towns. And this is easier said than done in rural Ireland.”