If people ‘want post offices...they’re going to have to use them’, Minister says

Michael Ring notes €615m online spend but TD says many in rural areas have no broadband

Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Minister for Rural Development Michael Ring. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

Rural post offices are closing because people are not using them, according to the Minister for Rural Development, who said Irish consumers spent €615 million online last year rather than in shops.

Michael Ring insisted, however, that “rural Ireland is not dead” and that its future was is in outdoor recreation.

“There’s never been as many people working and living in rural Ireland.”

During a Dáil discussion on post office closures, Mr Ring told Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny: “Let’s be honest. The services that we have, people are not using.”

He said he was in a village recently with 500 people, 300 families and “in that particular post office there was 50 TV licences bought, one a week”.

“Look it, if they want post offices; if they want small shops; if they want services, they’re going to have to use them,” he said of people in rural areas.

“€615 million worth of goods was bought online in this country last year over the internet. They passed their local shop; they passed their supermarket; they passed....the clothes shop, whatever shop and they went online and they bought.”

Mr Ring said that almost 87 per cent of people last year taxed their cars online and many were getting passports, paying bills and banking on the internet.

“They’re doing everything online, so we have to look at new ways to see how the existing post offices will survive.”

Broadband

During Dáil question time Mr Kenny said that in many parts of rural Ireland “they can’t do it online because they can’t get broadband”.

He said small villages were “dying on their feet”. In places in Co Leitrim like Drumkeeran or Ballinamore “half the shops in them are closed down. All they are depending on is the local farmer coming in spending, because that’s all they’ve got”.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said: “Ee don’t want rural Ireland to be a tourist resort or a holiday home for retiring. We want it to be a viable community for people to live and work.”

Insisting that rural Ireland “is not dead”, Mr Ring said its future was in outdoor recreation, not shops.

The Government had invested €700,000 in the boardwalk in Drumshanbo in Mr Kenny’s constituency with 80,000 people visiting it and eight businesses created nearby as a result.

He said he had listened to people all summer about rural Ireland and post offices. He said the post mistress in his local area had held a public meeting two years ago and people “all told her ‘we’ll be using your post office’,” but people did not use it and it was now closing.