Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I echo Deputy Lowry's remarks on our small and medium enterprises, many of which will reopen over the next weeks, hopefully getting back to full capacity. It is little remarked, but it should be said more often in this House and in other places, that small and medium enterprises account for more than half of all employment in all parts of the State. More people work in small and medium enterprises in Ireland than in the multinational sector and the public sector combined. This is why the Government has put so much effort into assisting them through this pandemic in the past year.
The House will be aware that An Post is a commercial State body with statutory responsibility for the postal network and postal services. Decisions relating to the size, distribution or future of the network are matters for the company. It is longstanding Government policy that postal services should be delivered by An Post on a commercial basis, or at least a break-even basis, and not be subsidised by the taxpayer.
An Post is continuing to undergo a vital transformation as part of its strategic plan. To implement this plan, the cost of which is some €150 million, the Government provided a long-term low-interest loan of €30 million to the company in December 2017. This was to support and protect the renewal of the post office network and the continued fulfilment of the five-day-a-week mail delivery service. The subsequent deal agreed between An Post and the Irish Postmasters' Union in 2018 centred around a renewed vision for the post office network, a revised postmasters' contract, and an acceptance that new business lines were required with a focus on financial and new government services, along with capital investment for the renewed and existing offices.
The implementation of the plan has been delayed by Covid-19. As an essential service, An Post and post offices remained trading throughout the pandemic but they have been affected significantly. Despite the challenges, An Post reports a strong underlying performance in 2020 and is well positioned to deliver on its strategic objectives on 2021 in future years.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, in consultation with NewERA, is now reviewing a proposal for An Post to support the post office network in line with their plan and we expect this process to conclude shortly. In addition, the Government established the offline services group in March to explore the potential of a one-stop shop approach to the delivery of Government services and to examine the feasibility of directing more businesses to the post office network. A report on that is expected in July.