Up to half of post offices in danger of closure

 

UP TO half of the Republic’s 1,100 post offices will be forced to close if An Post loses the contract for making social welfare payments, the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) has claimed.

IPU general secretary Brian McGann said the post office network would be “decimated” and hundreds of job lost if the Department of Social Protection goes ahead with plans to put the payments contract out to tender.

The future of the contract is being considered by the department and a decision is expected shortly.

Speaking at yesterday’s IPU annual conference in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Mr McGann said any plans by the Government to withdraw the social welfare payment contract would also have a disastrous effect on the social fabric of the country.

“Any decision to move away from using the Post Office as the primary channel for making social welfare payments will be politically disastrous on the scale of Charlie McCreevy’s ill-fated plan to decentralise government departments.

“Many social welfare recipients want to use their local post offices because it’s friendly, convenient and accessible.

“Local post offices also play a vital role in preventing fraud because of the face-to-face nature of its role. Postmasters are highly committed to detecting and stamping out fraud. We see the people, meet the people and we know them because they are part of our community.

“This deters fraudsters who often rely on faceless, impersonal systems of payment to perpetrate their fraud,” Mr McGann said.

Union president Brian Cannon, whose post office has been in his family for 100 years in Lettermacaward, Co Donegal, said he would lose 80 per cent of his business if social welfare payments are taken from An Post.

“That’s the reality of the situation. The local post office network is making strides to keep up with the demands of modern life.

“But if the social welfare payment contract is taken away, it will be a massive blow to us – a blow which many post offices could not survive. Personally it would mean a reduction of 80 per cent of my business,” he said.

Mr McGann called on Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to give a greater role to post offices in delivering welfare services. “We want to add value to what we do and there is no reason why post offices cannot also provide additional services for the department such as signing on, means-testing, identity checking etc,” he said.

Delegates also heard calls to allow post offices become hubs for services, including the payment of motor tax. There was also a call for increased security measures in the wake of a number of tiger kidnappings in recent months.