By Dan Walsh
Wexford Independent Deputy Verona Murphy addressed the Dáil on Wednesday speaking on the Post Office Network motion submitted by the private members group.
Deputy Murphy said; “Last October, the Government was put on notice that if there was no movement on the post offices, we would revisit the issue, and here we are, which is disappointing to all concerned. This motion calls on the Government to introduce an interim solution that could be effective and deliverable from July 2021 to guarantee the current post office network and prevent any further closures.
“The post office sector is a vital piece of infrastructure to many rural and regional communities. Almost 950 post offices exist throughout Ireland. They vary in size and in the services they provide. In County Wexford, there are 52 post offices. I am in regular contact with people who run post offices, particularly in the areas of Fethard, Ballycullane, Ramsgrange, Campile, New Ross and many others. Clearly, the rural post office plays a crucial role in community life.
“Unfortunately, it is becoming more of a struggle for postmasters and postmistresses to make a sustainable living from their work. Post offices throughout Ireland provide a vital service to hundreds of communities and millions of people. Not only do they provide vital services, but they also provide a warm, helpful and friendly face for the people in the local community.
“As part of the Regional Group, I have called many times for post offices to be viewed as a one-stop-shop for engagement with State services. I know many State services can be dealt with via the post office, but there is still a long way to go and there are many more services that could be incorporated into the post office’s role.”
In reply, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton said; “I know Deputies raised the important matter of the post office network in October last year and the motion before us today recognises the views of the Members who participated in that debate. I noted at the time I agreed with many of the sentiments expressed by Deputies and the Government does not intend to oppose today’s motion from the Regional Group.
“The Government’s programme is clear and a modernised post office network will provide a better range of financial and e-commerce services for citizens and enterprise as part of our commitment to a sustainable nationwide post office network.
“The Government’s objectives for An Post include harnessing the opportunities presented by e-commerce and the digital economy, capturing and retaining market share in parcels and delivering a sustainable nationwide post office network offering a range of e-commerce, financial and Government services.
“The deal agreed between An Post and postmasters in 2018 centred around a renewed vision of the post office network and a revised postmaster contract. There is an acceptance that new business lines were required, with a focus on financial and new government services, along with a capital investment plan for the renewal of existing offices.
“The agreement reached between An Post and the Irish Postmasters’ Union underpinned significant change and investment to redefine the post office network, including reducing the number of post offices, modernising the postmaster contract and updating the brand.
“I am pleased to advise Deputies that An Post reached an agreement with the Irish Postmasters Union in late June for an €8.5 million fund that will benefit all post offices over the next 18 months. Due to the improving financial position of the company, An Post will fund this programme from its own resources.
“I stress that the terms under which postmasters are contracted to An Post is a matter between postmasters and An Post and any negotiations are a matter for both parties directly,” concluded Minister Naughton.