Government denies post office closures are attack on rural Ireland

Opposition outcry as An Post announces 159 closures, with west of Ireland hardest hit

The greatest number of closures is in Galway (18), followed by Donegal (17), Cork and Kerry (both 12), and then Mayo and Wexford (both 11). The only county with no closures is Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

The greatest number of closures is in Galway (18), followed by Donegal (17), Cork and Kerry (both 12), and then Mayo and Wexford (both 11). The only county with no closures is Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government and An Post have strongly denied that the closure of 159 post offices is an attack on rural Ireland, following criticism from Opposition parties on the issue.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten said on Wednesday that, notwithstanding the closure, there were still 950 post offices throughout the State and the issue was about ensuring they offered new services such as foreign exchange and broadband to help guarantee their viability.

An Post chief executive David McRedmond said the semi-state’s strategy was that all communities would be within a 15km radius of the nearest post office, and the consolidation would allow the operation of new services such as motor tax, banking services, credit cards and direct access to other State services and payments.

The Western seaboard has been worst-affected. The greatest number of closures is in Galway (18), followed by Donegal (17), Cork and Kerry (both 12), and then Mayo and Wexford (both 11). The only county with no closures is Dublin.

In some areas, such as Eyrecourt in Co Galway, Finny in Co Mayo, and Cornamona in Co Galway, local people will have to cross the county border to access the nearest post office.

Assurances

Opposition spokesmen argued that despite the assurances of An Post and Mr Naughten, there is little sign of many of the promised new services, besides foreign exchange, becoming reality in the short term.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on communications Timmy Dooley said despite the Government having an action plan for rural Ireland, it was another nail in the coffin for rural communities, especially in the west.

“It is nothing short of a direct attack on rural communities and will not be tolerated,” he said.

“There is no doubt among the people living in the communities directly affected that these closures send a very [clear] message that the State no longer sees rural Ireland as a viable place to live or work and [people] will not be supported to settle there.

“It is well accepted that the level of business transacted in post offices has reduced in recent years, but important decisions such as this one move beyond profit margins; rural post offices deliver a service that cannot be measured in profit and loss.”

Resisted

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy described the announcement as “an absolute scandal” that must be resisted.

“Local post office branches are a vital element in the sustainability of many small towns, villages and communities across Ireland. But our rural post office network has been under sustained attack in recent years,” he said.

Labour spokesman on Rural Affairs Willie Penrose said the latest round of closures will leave some people with a 30km round trip to access their post office. “That is a 30km round trip to collect a pension, fill out a tax form or get a child benefit payment,” he said.

Mr Penrose also called on An Post to re-examine the issuing of licenses to people who wished to serve as postmasters in their local communities.

A spokeswoman for Mr Naughten pointed out that a protocol had been added to the agreement which left it open for others in the 159 communities where postmasters have retired to make an application for a new licence.