Plan to introduce new services to rural post offices

Cabinet to be asked to authorise series of pilot projects in bid to keep post offices viable

Minister of State Michael Ring is due to present a memo to a  Cabinet meeting on Tuesday following months of work on rural post offices by an official group within his department. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister of State Michael Ring is due to present a memo to a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday following months of work on rural post offices by an official group within his department. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Cabinet will be asked to authorise a series of pilot projects for rural post offices which would see them offer a range of new services, such as motor tax renewal, in a bid to enhance their economic viability.

Minister of State at the Department of Rural Development Michael Ring is due to present a memo to a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning following months of work on rural post offices by an official group within his department.

There are fears for the future of hundreds of rural post offices, as An Post faces a cash squeeze due to declining volumes of mail in recent years.

Ministers have been told the company will face difficulties paying its wage bill next month, and responded by rushing through legislation authorising an increase in the price of stamps. However, the company is still facing a major restructuring in the coming months, which politicians and campaigners fear could result in the closure of hundreds of small rural post offices.

Viability

More than half of the company’s 1,100 post offices are believed to be loss making, with some informed sources believing that the company could seek to close 200 to 300 of its outlets. Any such move would be sure to lead to a wave of protests.

Fianna Fáil is also likely to oppose the closure of any significant numbers of post offices. “Post office viability should not just been seen in terms of profit and loss,” communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said.

The State will have to look at “some sort of solidarity support” for post offices in areas where they sustain rural communities, he said, adding that any closure would have to be agreed with postmasters and their communities.

A complicating factor in Government in dealing with the post offices issue is that responsibility is divided between two departments – the Department of Communications has responsibility for the company, while the Department of Rural Development – where Mr Ring is the Minister of State – has responsibility for the network of rural post offices.