The proposed closure of 80 post offices has been described as a "serious blow" and "another nail in the coffin" for rural Ireland.
The proposal is believed to be included in a report by businessman Bobby Kerr on the future of post offices, which has not yet been published.
Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) general secretary Ned O'Hara has called on An Post to publish the report in full as soon as possible.
“There’s a danger if there’s no action that not only 80 but 500 to 600 [post offices] could close because postmasters can’t make a living out of them. They want to provide more services, they can’t provide more services,” he said.
“Bobby Kerr has a comprehensive plan and not just about 80 closures but additional services, both Government and financial , with new services and appropriate investment. It is a complete plan.”
Aim to curb losses
The five-year plan was created with the aim of curbing losses estimated to be between €12 to €15 million a year for the postal group.
Mr O’Hara said there had been ongoing discussions between the Government and the union, and between the Government and An Post, since January - but not with all three parties at the same time.
“They’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We want to get into a room with An Post and eliminate the gaps between our position and their position on the recommendations. From our point of view, the gaps are surmountable.
“The plan is high-level recommendations. We need a detailed plan now. We want to focus on the solutions,” he said.
The report states there is a total of 1,135 post offices operating across Ireland with about 1.7 million customers every week. There were 1,907 post offices in 1992.
“The people of Ireland tell us they want services in the post office and without it they’d feel abandoned. There’s been lots of research to back this up,” Mr O’Hara said.
A statement from An Post said it is aware of the reports of the recommendations to close 80 post offices but “these reports have not come from An Post”.
“We are currently completing the first detailed, in-depth review of the post office network for many years,” it said.
“ No decisions have been made while this review is ongoing.”
It said the intention of the organisation was to produce a plan for a commercially viable and self-funded network, which would meet the needs of citizens.
“We expect the work to be completed within the next couple of months,” it said.
Michael Fitzmaurice, the Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, said the post office closures would be a "serious blow" for rural Ireland.
“With all the talk of the revival of rural Ireland in recent months, these announcements fly in the face of what we have heard and it is clear that the Government is talking out of both sides of it’s mouth when it comes to rural issues,” he said.
“What will be next? Either the Government is serious about supporting rural Ireland or it isn’t and on this evidence today it certainly is not.”
‘The coffin of rural Ireland’
Workers’ Party spokesman Seamus McDonagh said the closures would be “another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland”.
Mr McDonagh said the Government needed to stop the plan from going ahead.
“The post office is a lifeline, it is the hub of a small community, and for older people the weekly visit to the post office may be their only contact with their neighbours. Taking away a post office tears the heart out of a community,” he said.
Mattie McGrath, the Independent TD for Co Tipperary, said the closure of the 80 post offices would "irreparably damage" rural communities.
“If these indications from the unpublished Kerr Report are accurate, then our worst fears will have been realised,” he said.
“It will result in increased economic hardship, increased social isolation, and an escalation in the decline of the rural Irish community.
“From our credit unions, to our post offices, our transport, our roads; everything is converging in what can only be described as a sustained and apparently calculated assault on rural Ireland.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs said any decision to close individual post offices was matter for An Post.
“ However, the Government remains committed to a viable post office network and is taking a number of steps to secure the network in the long term. We are very conscious of the importance of post offices in rural communities,” she said.