Sharp exchanges at Labour meeting

Concerns over post office network

There were sharp exchanges at a private meeting of Labour TDs and Senators last night over the post office network, as well as some criticism at the party's direction in Government.

The strength of opinion at the meeting of the Labour parliamentary party was such that Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton arranged an immediate meeting between concerned TDs and Senators and Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.

Some sources also claimed the discussion widened into Labour’s role in Government and a “drift” in the Coalition, while others at the meeting said the discussion was focused mainly on post offices.

The meeting came as the Irish Postmasters' Union protested outside Leinster House. The union has claimed up to 600 post offices could close if the Government continues to move to electronic payments. It has also raised concerns over a new "post and pay" system being developed with Tesco.

There was also criticism of an email sent by Fine Gael encouraging its TDs and Senators to put pressure on Mr Rabbitte over post offices.

The email was raised by Waterford TD Ciara Conway in particular, and Kerry TD Arthur Spring later told Fine Gael TDs in the Dáil chamber they would have a general election, not a local election, if they continued with such statements.

Sources said Fine Gael TDs had apologised to Mr Rabbitte over the email.

Ms Burton was the only senior Minister at the meeting, sources said. Members asked why Labour was voting against a Private Members' motion from the Technical Group calling for the post office network to be protected.

At one stage, Arthur Spring threatened to push a motion, seconded by Robert Dowds, to tell Mr Rabbitte Labour TDs would support the Technical Group and vote against the Government.

Numerous TDs – including Willie Penrose, Ciara Conway, Robert Dowds, Jack Wall, Arthur Spring and junior minister Alan Kelly, as well as Senators John Gilroy and Marie Moloney – were critical of the Government approach and said it came on top of issues such as pylons and wind turbines, which had also caused anger.