Mary Feely: The local post office offers a safe haven from the banking scandals

‘My bank doesn’t want me cluttering up its premises. It makes this clear by closing most of its teller windows, keeping the queue long and slow’

‘Pay interest on the money swishing in and out? Go away, child. Dream on.’  Photograph: Getty Images

‘Pay interest on the money swishing in and out? Go away, child. Dream on.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

Another week, another banking scandal. On Tuesday, Permanent TSB said sorry to the customers it had cheated. The bank had led people into paying higher rates than they had to on 1,372 mortgages. All the people who held those mortgages were cheated of money; some were also cheated of their credit histories, peace of mind, investments and homes.

The bank wasted money defending its indefensible conduct in court. Now it owes customers more than €35 million compensation, as well as Central Bank fines of up to €20 million. As the bank is mostly State-owned, the bill is on us, the eejit taxpayers. Again.

Banks. Is there anyone who doesn’t despise them?

I have bank accounts only because modern life forces me to do so. I need to receive electronic payments and pay direct debits, and only a bank can provide these services. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to do with a bank, ever.

Thanks to my bank failing to invest in its IT system, I’ve had accounts frozen. My bank somehow lost a cheque that was lodged in Dublin; more than a year later, it has yet to show up in our branch in Drogheda. The bank bugs me with phone calls from a computer, generally when I’m making dinner, to ask what I think of its customer service. (What I think is that if the bank really gave a toss it would pay for a proper customer survey.)

For this, my bank charges me a monthly fee on each account. Pay interest on the money swishing in and out? Go away, child. Dream on.

Images of atrocities

Living through our latest recession, caused by the banks blowing up the economy, has had the same effect on me that the Great Depression had on a generation of Americans: I don’t trust banks. I want nothing to do with them.

Thankfully, there’s one place where I can manage my money without feeling grumpy: my local post office.

I’m always popping in and out, organising my funds. One day I’m depositing money towards large bills such as the life-insurance policy. The next day I’m taking out €20 to put in an envelope for a child’s birthday. This makes me a bank’s worst nightmare but the post office doesn’t mind.

Because I live in the countryside, it can be hard to get my hands on cash. We used to have an ATM at the shop just down the road but the machine is long gone. My credit union is a wonderful organisation staffed by lovely neighbours, but has limited hours.

So, about a year ago, I opened a post office deposit account. The bliss! The convenience! I have a choice of two post offices a short drive from my home, both of them in shops. There is usually no queue. In return for this convenience, the post office actually pays a small amount of interest on my money. No fees, by the way.

Treated as a human being

The Department of Social Welfare aims to makepay almost all social welfare payments electronically by 2018 – ie it wants to pay people through banks, not post offices.

Postmasters are furious because handling cash social welfare payments is now 30 per cent of their business. Two are even standing in the next general election. Alan Kelly, postmaster in Cabra, will run in Dublin Central. Seona O’Fegan, postmistress in Barna and Father Griffin Road post offices in Galway, will run in Galway West. They want the Coalition to follow its policy, which is to strengthen the postal system, not strangle it.

Postmasters say they operate as unofficial social centres in rural Ireland, a view echoed in a 2012 report commissioned from Grant Thornton by the Irish Postmasters’ Union. The consensus from community bodies spoken to was that “the post office network plays an important role as a focal point for many communities and offers many intangible benefits to local communities”.

This is nothing new. In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s terrifying memoir of 1930s poverty, a disabled neighbour can get her money only with the help of young Frank and an obliging post- office worker.

As for myself, I just want my post office to keep going – is that so scandalous?

marytfeely@eircom.net Breda O’Brien is on leave

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