Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Postal Services: Motion (Resumed)
encourage all Departments, such as the Department of Social and Family Affairs, to use the services of An Post for payments or other financial transactions or transmissions and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to facilitate the provision of an accurate voters register.
the putting in place of a new industrial relations framework following difficult negotiations between company management and trade unions in order to turn An Post into a vibrant customer-focused organisation and to ensure there will be no repeat of the scale of the losses experienced between 2001 and 2003;
the statutory underpinning of the postal network, as set out in the European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations 2002 which provides for universal service obligations, USO, including nationwide postal deliveries at uniform tariffs and, in recognition of the USO, the designation of An Post as the sole operator in part of the postal market;
the key role for the post office network, as set out in the programme for Government and in the White Paper on Rural Development building on the intrinsic strengths of the network in terms of nationwide reach, high customer footfall and strong relationship between postmasters and their customers; and
the commitment of the Government to the future development of the post office network, as evidenced by Government approval to the joint venture proposal with Fortis which will harness the existing strengths of the network to develop a financial services business providing a range of banking services, thereby providing an improved income stream for postmasters".
This debate is very important, and I compliment my colleague, Deputy Durkan, on giving us an opportunity to discuss An Post. I am very glad to see the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in the House.
I am told that I am a happy Deputy, but something that pleases me every single day is that at home, in my constituency office, and in the Houses of the Oireachtas, I open my mail, which always excites me. There is a great deal of correspondence from my constituents and greetings from various people. I also network with politicians abroad. It is important that, like the Minister, we understand the worth of the postal service. We receive a great deal of correspondence. I do not get at all excited about opening an e-mail or looking at a fax, but since I was a child, I have been happy to see post dropping through the letter box.
It is important that, like others who have spoken on this motion, we strongly support the men and women of the postal service. I have great respect for the postal workers in the Tallaght area, particularly those in the Tallaght sorting office. I am sure other Members will say the same about the service provided in their areas. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is aware of my concerns regarding postal services because I have often articulated them to him. There have been post office closures even in my constituency, which comprises a major urban centre. I was consistently critical of the poor decision to close the post office in Tallaght village, which provided a tremendous service and a focal point for the people of Tallaght and surrounding districts. I am keen to promote Tallaght village, which is where my full-time office is located and where I spend a large part of every day.
A huge catchment area in the Greenhills-Greenpark part of my constituency, for instance, is without a post office since McHugh's shopping centre on St. James's Road was badly damaged by fire and left derelict. My constituents in this area, some of whom may wish to write to me and with whom I may wish to correspond, are obliged to go to post offices in other locations, such as Walkinstown. An Post should listen carefully to our concerns regarding Greenhills, Greenpark and other places where the need for a local post office is great.
I take the point which Deputy Moynihan-Cronin articulated yesterday that there are even more and different challenges in rural areas. It is interesting that all the other Fianna Fáil Members who have spoken on this motion are from rural constituencies. Their concerns may differ slightly from mine. It is important to emphasise that residents in major urban areas like to have postal services close by. I have pointed to some of the difficulties in my constituency but it is also important to point out that there are post offices in Springfield, Killinarden, Aylesbury, Glenview, Kilnamanagh and Templeogue village. Some people expressed their disappointed when the post office in Templeogue village was moved across the street into the Centra centre. People become accustomed to availing of postal services in a particular environment.
I am glad the Minister is in the House to hear Members' concerns. I hope he will take account of the points made in this debate. Members are entitled to put forward their political views, even at Christmas. I have no hesitation in strongly supporting the postal service, particularly in my constituency. I am a regular visitor to the sorting office in Tallaght where the staff do a great job. Members have received regular correspondence from the Irish Postmasters Union and I understand the Minister is carefully considering their representations. I have assured the general secretary, Mr. John Kane, that I and my colleagues will continue to bring the union's concerns to the Minister's attention.
I always say that I come from a bygone Dublin era. I have never spent much time in rural areas and am comfortable being a Dublin person. We have seen changes to various semi-State institutions over the years, including Bord na Móna, the Irish Sugar Company, Aer Lingus, CIE and An Post. The latter is an institution whose activities impact all our lives on a daily basis. In light of the changes in society in recent years, including the demise or transformation of so many of these seemingly fixed and permanent institutions, it seems possible that An Post too may become a thing of the past. This should not happen.
The postal service is one in which the public has absolute confidence, and that confidence has never been misplaced. When one puts a stamp on a letter and puts it into a post box, one expects no other conclusion than that the letter will arrive at the location to which it is addressed. That trust has been earned through nine decades of service to the public by the postal service. I see postal workers in Tallaght serving the public in all weathers. Every Member can say the same of their own areas.
We can all be confident that the stamp we put on our letter represents a contract that will not be broken. It is the human element of the postal service that has inspired this confidence and respect. An Post provides a considerable range of automated services and further developments are likely in this regard. However, no technology, no matter how useful, can replace the men and women who walk the cities, towns, villages and farmlands of Ireland. It is by their efforts that the public's trust has been earned.
The postal service has continued in an unbroken line from the first day of the establishment of the State in 1922. It is one of the success stories of Irish independence. I urge all Deputies to be mindful of these facts when the move to open the service to private competition is considered. The private operators who move into the area of postal delivery will cherry-pick those areas of service that generate the most profit. That is the nature of business. An Post, however, is not merely a business. It is also a service and its workers are imbued with a sense of service which is not normally a feature of the private operator.
Change is part of natural development, but there are some tried and tested institutions and services we should not lightly change. An Post should not go the way of some of those seemingly permanent institutions to which I referred, not for sentimental reasons but for the sound reason that it has proven to be one of the most effective postal services in Europe. A colleague observed last night that we are entering an important new era for postal services. I noticed an advertisement recently which claimed that Christmas begins when one receives a card. For some strange reason, I received my first Christmas card in October.
I wish the Minister well and ask him to listen carefully to the various contributions of Members. I draw the Ceann Comhairle's attention to a group of visitors in the Gallery from the Harcourt Business School. I am sure he joins me in welcoming them.
I thank Deputy Durkan for tabling this Private Members' motion. It is timely for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that An Post is coming into its busiest time of the year. Like most Members, I have had regular meetings with members of the Irish Postmasters Union, who have kept us informed on a regular basis of the difficulties facing their members in maintaining a reasonable payment for the work they do. There is no doubt that many of them are finding it increasingly difficult to earn a reasonable livelihood for their work. The reasons for this are multi-factorial and need not be restated. Suffice to say that many postmasters and postmistresses are struggling to make ends meet.
There is a long history of poor industrial relations at An Post. The eventual resolution of these difficulties in late 2005 was welcome and I commend the Minister for his part in this. I was glad this led to all staff, particularly the pensioners, being paid retrospectively in October.
However, the post office network faces many problems in 2007. Much of the business done through the network may be lost, in particular social welfare payments. This work accounts for a considerable amount of income available to An Post. Should it be lost, the future of the post office network will be in danger.
Not all post offices are the same. Many, approximately 1,000, are automated and, as such, are in a good position to face the future, be it in traditional areas of post office work or new areas such as banking. I welcome the joint venture with An Post and the Belgian bank, Fortis, which will see a wide range of banking services rolled out between March and July 2007. Approximately 400 branches, however, are not automated and are frequently located in small towns and villages. Occasionally a non-automated branch is found in a larger centre of population. Up to 97.5% of An Post's business is done through automated branches while only 2.5% is done in the 400 non-automated branches. Recently, as apart of a pilot project, ten smaller offices were automated and the resulting business is being monitored very carefully. If it shows an increase in business, moves will be instituted to make the whole network automated as soon as possible.
There is a social dimension to the business of An Post, especially when one considers the implications of not having a post office in a small village. Apart from the usual business transactions, many elderly people use the trip to the post office as a social focus for their week. I know post offices do not exist for this reason alone. In this day of making the books balance, the social dimension is often overlooked. While the network embraces change, the dedication and commitment made by postmasters and postmistresses must be recognised, in particular the value of the post office to the community it serves.
I commend the Government amendment to the House.
The Government recognises the challenges facing An Post with electronic substitution, postal liberalisation and competitive threats from private operators. It also recognises the substantial progress made in restoring An Post to financial stability after a series of losses between 2001 and 2003 amounting to €70 million. With low margins in the postal industry, we need to be vigilant against another slip into a loss-making position. The putting in place of a new industrial relations framework, following difficult negotiations between management and trade unions, turned An Post into a vibrant and customer-focused organisation.
The statutory underpinning of the postal network is set out in the EU postal services regulations. These provide for a universal service obligation, including nationwide postal deliveries at uniform tariffs. In recognition of the universal service obligation, An Post has been designated the sole operator of the postal market. The key role for the post office network is also set out in the programme for Government and the White Paper on Rural Development. It is hoped to build on the strengths of the network to ensure nationwide reach and high customer footfall and to continue the strong relationship between postmasters and their customers.
Automation of the network's office has already been undertaken with 1,000 post offices already computerised and undertaking over 95% of An Post's business. I commend the commitment of the Government to the future development of the post office network as evidenced by the Government's approval on the joint venture proposal with Fortis. This will harness the existing strengths of the network to develop a financial services business providing a range of banking services, thereby providing an improved income stream for postmasters.
The post office network is a very valuable asset. It comprises 995 automated and 404 non-automated post offices, 161 postal agencies and 2,567 post point outlets. To gauge the impact of automation on business generation, the company recently completed a pilot automation project for ten small post offices. Carrickboy post office in County Longford was one of the ten pilot projects and, according to all parties, it was a great success.
Postmasters are hardworking and give a friendly personal service. In Longford town, the post office is a hub of activity with a great buzz of business about it. The postmaster and staff are second to none and it is a pleasure to deal with them. The postmen and postwomen project a good image for the company. It is good to meet them on their rounds, especially early in the morning. They are always in good form and ready to help the customer in any way they can. Edgeworthstown, Granard, Ardagh, Carrickboy, Ballymahon, Lanesborough, Newtownforbes and Drumlish have vibrant local post offices. People should be more aware of the services available at their local post office. By supporting the business of the local post office, it will help the community's development.
The programme for Government is committed to An Post continuing to play a key role in mail delivery and as a provider of Government and financial services. It must still, however, remain competitive. The successful running of An Post is a matter for management and staff — unity is the key to success. It is crucial that the management and staff of An Post work together for the good of the company. A fair wage must be paid to its workers and we must come up with a formula where wages are good while a competitive service is provided. The issue of postmasters' remuneration must still be resolved.
Members of the public must support their local post office and find out what services are available there. Sometimes when it is too late people regret not having taken action. Business is business and it needs public support. The public should avail of local services. After travelling miles one will probably find that next door is the local post office and the friendly postmaster or postmistress who can provide service as good as, if not better than, anybody else. I look forward to the continuation of the debate. I commend the Government and all of us who are committed to the postal service. We realise the great asset we have with so many retail outlets. Let us put our heads together and put it all to good use for the benefit of everybody.
I thank the Chair for this opportunity to contribute to this debate on the future of An Post and the post offices. In the modern age when telephone calls, texts and e-mails outnumber written correspondence we must be vigilant in ensuring and solidifying the position of our rural post offices. I am confident we are making every effort to ensure technology does not prevail over human relationships. The main thrust of this debate last night and today has focused on unautomated rural post offices. Ensuring we have the maximum number of post offices serving our communities across the country is a major issue. An Post has concluded a trial programme in which ten rural post offices have been automated. A decision on further automation of such post offices and the effective automation and the volume of transactions in these post offices will be made soon. It is of the utmost importance to our rural communities that their post offices are automated as a matter of urgency. I refer to recent discussions between public representatives and the community served by Lombardstown post office, which is not yet automated. Only by automating these rural post offices will we ensure their viability. We must ensure the local post office is automated and that rural communities can expect the same level of services from their post offices as urban areas.
To strengthen rural communities post offices across the country need the financial resources for automation. This is an issue not just for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. If rural post offices are to be automated, funding must be made available from the Departments of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Social and Family Affairs. We have seen post offices close across the country, some of them in the Clár areas designated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as disadvantaged. While one arm of the State designates these as disadvantaged communities, another arm of the State withdraws services by the closure of the unautomated post offices. Based on the White Paper on rural development and many reports over the years, it is time for joined-up thinking on providing a wide range of services where groups such as Clár and LEADER are involved in rural communities throughout Ireland. We should ensure there is joined-up thinking on An Post.
From 2001 to 2003 An Post made large losses. Thankfully it has been returned to profit. A large number of issues can be attracted to the post office network. Last night the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, mentioned statistics on the number of post offices per head of population compared to rural Britain or Europe. We have an extensive network. There is a difficulty and concern about the remuneration received by postmasters and postmistresses. There should be joined-up thinking between the Departments of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Social and Family Affairs. This will be an issue, perhaps in four, five or ten years time. We have seen population increases in rural communities for the first time in nearly 100 years. It would be remiss of us to neglect the post office network that has served this country so well since the foundation of the State and before that. The post offices have made a remarkable contribution and if we allow them to die out, it would be on our heads.
Issues such as AIB and bill payments should be highlighted. Some have said today that it behoves us to go and avail of post office facilities rather than doing transactions by electronic banking. In many of our rural communities the relationship between the rural post office and the local community adds to the spirit of neighbourliness and creates a sense of togetherness. The post office is a focal point in many rural communities and the services it provides cannot be underestimated. The Department is centrally involved in revitalising all our rural communities, making them self-sufficient and fostering a sense of togetherness and neighbourliness. Investment from the Government in the rural post office network would go a long way towards revitalising it. Recipients of social welfare payments are always given the choice of having payments transferred electronically to their bank accounts or paid at the post office. There is a kind of urgency in that Department to move payments from the post office that has to be stopped. We must bring the post office issue back into focus.
In 1994 the rationalisation began with designating a major post office and closing three or four smaller ones around it. That was resisted by communities across the country through organisations such as Save our Rural Post Offices. Thankfully they stood up to An Post and defended rural communities. Otherwise rural post offices would have been decimated. Looking back 40 or 50 years to the advent of the car, railway lines were taken up which we are now replacing.
We will be judged on this issue. If we see only the short-term gain of electronic transactions and do not stand up as the Government, the Oireachtas and as communities across the country and defend the rural post offices, we will lament their passing in five or ten years time and say it is possible to have a wide range of services in our rural post offices. We have other arms of the State, such as citizens advice bureaux. We should network these in because we have the offices in nearly every parish in the country. We should not be found wanting in ensuring the post offices are kept open. The Government and An Post must be committed to automating the remaining unautomated post offices without further delay.
I wish to share time with Deputies Crowe, Breen, Healy, Connolly and Cowley. I am pleased to speak on the running down of our post office network. I have repeatedly submitted questions, motions and requests for adjournment debates on this issue over the past few months. On each occasion it was ruled out of order because the Minister is not responsible for An Post. However, on 11 May, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs told Deputy Cuffe that "the Government is committed to maintaining a viable network of post offices throughout the country". How can the Government be committed to an objective but take no action on it and answer no questions about it? The Government is presiding over the post office network withering away.
This problem is not just a rural phenomenon. Residents in Dublin 6, in the constituency of Dublin South East, have seen three post offices close in the past few years. Terenure post office closed its doors in 2003, inconveniencing many people in the area. Earlier this year Kenilworth post office, on Harold's Cross Road, closed due to the death of the postmaster. Rathgar post office closed when rent on the premises increased dramatically. In each case, An Post advertised for people to take on the contract for the post offices but no suitable candidates have been found. An Post is continuing the search but can local people be confident these services will be restored?
My constituents in the area must travel to Rathmines to deal with simple matters such as registering a letter or collecting social welfare payments. I do not expect all Members to be familiar with the geography of Dublin South East but it is quite a trek for elderly residents of Terenure or Rathgar. Older people are disproportionately affected by closures.
The Government seeks to portray itself as caring for older people but essential services for elderly people are being run down. My constituents regularly receive election literature from Fianna Fáil candidates emphasising issues affecting older people. My constituents are entitled to ask the candidates what the party is doing to preserve essential services that older people use. That Rathmines post office is the only port of call for so many residents and that has created problems. It was busy enough without having to deal with additional business. Queues and waiting times have increased. The post office is no longer open on Saturday afternoons. The number of post boxes, and the number of collections from them, is also decreasing. How can this be anything other than a serious decline in public services?
The facts are stark and the figures released by the Irish Postmasters Union leave no doubt that the network is in decline and the Government is doing nothing to halt it. The IPU figures show how many postmasters are barely scraping by. Hundreds of members are earning less than the minimum wage and working 50 hours per week. Some 35 members earn less than €8,000 per year. Such post offices must be considered at risk of imminent closure. Terenure, Rathgar and Harold's Cross are busy urban villages with plenty of footfall and customers. If the contract for running such post offices is not attractive enough to draw suitable candidates, what hope is there that the post office network can be maintained?
The deal offered by An Post is not attractive enough and the responsibilities and risks are too onerous. Prospective post masters must find a great deal of money to secure the franchise and the return is uncertain at best. There are serious security fears, especially the so-called tiger kidnappings. These problems require imaginative solutions.
I suggest the Government stops sitting back while the network withers on the vine. If the matter is left to An Post, the outcome is clear. The major banks decided that it was in their commercial interests to reduce the number of branches. On a commercial basis, An Post will do the same. It is up to the Minister to intercede. He should stop talking the talk. It is time to introduce a number of one stop shops combined with post offices, as suggested by the Green Party.
I commend the hardworking staff of An Post for the invaluable contribution to people in this State. The motion before us has mixed messages because it appears to support the deregulation policies that will destroy the postal network. My concern, shared by many, is that liberalisation and deregulation will cause new postal administrations to enter the market and cherry pick the most profitable areas. This will put more pressure on An Post's social obligation to deliver throughout the State. Postal services in rural areas are already scaled back, some areas having only two deliveries each week. The Government is allowing postal standards to drop in order to bolster its argument for increased market liberalisation.
The Fortis 50-50 joint banking operation could be the saviour of many post offices, yet we are witnessing the mass closure of post offices throughout the State. We must retain post offices in which this new service can be offered. Post offices throughout the Twenty-six counties are closing with no active Government response. Without a national strategy the local post office is in grave danger of becoming extinct. The decision of the European Court of Justice, stipulating that An Post must compete for Government contracts, fits in with the EU liberalisation and privatisation plans but could be the fatal blow to the network. Government business accounts for 70% of post office transactions and many post offices are dependent on social welfare contracts. Over 25% of post offices have closed in the past six years and only 84 full-time post offices remain. These closures are affecting those in rural areas and the elderly most, especially those who must travel long distances to receive essential payments such as the pension.
Postal services are being scaled down in many working class areas. Staff at offices in Dublin 10 are to be reduced by half, a scenario that may be repeated across Dublin. In Cherry Orchard and Ballyfermot, the priority is commercial parcels, to the detriment of ordinary people as customers. People are receiving a second class service and business is the priority. Scaling down postal services will also affect Tallaght. In Lucan and Blanchardstown, some estates receive only one delivery per week. An Post is failing to deliver post every day due to reductions in staff and the Government refuses to adopt a progressive strategy for the network.
The liberalisation of the postal market is due to take place by 2009 and the Government claims this move is led by the EU. This is untrue because it is led by Ireland, with Commissioner McCreevy at the helm. In France, where postal workers are heavily unionised, such liberalisation would be unlikely to happen. Germany is also likely to oppose it and Ireland may be one of the few countries to agree to liberalisation. The United States, the beacon of capitalism and every Progressive Democrats dream, has refused to liberalise the postal market and is content to keep it in public ownership.
The motion calls on the Government to address labour relations in An Post. Ordinary staff are refused payments of up to €2,000 agreed under Sustaining Progress while top brass pay themselves six figure sums. This highlights many of the ongoing problems within An Post.
I find it somewhat ironic to debate a motion which calls on the Government to become proactive in the operation of An Post. Several times in the past year I have submitted written questions to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding pay and pensions within An Post only to be told by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle that the Minister has no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann in this operational An Post matter. Perhaps this motion could have been ruled out of order.
It is important to point out the role post offices still play in our communities. The closure of rural post offices has become a feature of modern Ireland, although it has not improved life in those areas. In County Clare, Carrigaholt, Labasheeda and Liscannor have in the past few months lost their post offices, and last Thursday the An Post office in my village of Kilnamona closed after more than 100 years of service to the community. As one local stated, apart from mass, people would meet at the post office to discuss what was happening around the parish and county.
Times change and it is important that the An Post network moves with them. I congratulate Mr. Donal Connell, recently appointed chief executive of An Post, as one of his first actions was to authorise the payment of outstanding increases due to staff and pensioners under the Sustaining Progress agreement.
The closure of rural post offices has also resulted in many pensioners having to travel long distances to their nearest post office to collect pensions. In the absence of public transport it is often necessary to hire taxis. Yet in a reply to a parliamentary question the Minister for Social and Family Affairs stated that he would not authorise a support payment to people in such circumstances. The post office network should be accessible to rural communities, otherwise we should help bring people to their post office with no burden of cost.
When this House debated payments relating to nursing home charges and the establishment of a body to make these repayments, I stated that either the Department of Social and Family Affairs or An Post should be a mechanism by which such repayments are made. I still believe this long-established and broad network is underutilised. The banks in this country annually announce almost obscene profits and proper legislation should be enacted allowing the post office to compete effectively with the banks for the benefit of the consumer.
In the current age of computer and Internet activity, the role that the parcel delivery business plays should be utilised by An Post. The company should consider leasing some rural post offices to authorities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau for their own use.
When we put down questions in future to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, will we be ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle? Will the Minister be prepared to take such questions in future?
I commend the staff of An Post, who do an excellent job on a daily basis, and I support this Private Members' motion and the retention and expansion of the postal service. Some speakers have stated there is no national policy on the postal service, but I do not agree. Unfortunately, the national strategy is right wing and ideologically driven, which provides for the closure of small rural post offices and the privatisation of the service.
There are difficulties not only in rural post offices, but in bigger urban areas also. The small rural office network should remain, be expanded and continue to be the focus of life in a local village or parish. It should be upgraded and computerised, and postmasters should be properly remunerated for their work. The network is vital rural infrastructure.
In many urban areas, An Post is trying to take post offices out of the hands of the public service. Cahir has been threatened with the closure of its post office, which thankfully was stopped, but there are now moves to put the post office into private ownership, sell the building and withdraw the public service provision. The town has probably doubled in size in the past five or six years and it will grow even further if one takes into account the planning permissions being granted and population census returns.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The local post office is an integral part of our society and the community's social fabric. It offers an ever-widening range of services to the public. Post offices are much more than simply providers of postal services. In many cases the post office also provides a village shop and newsagent. It makes a far greater contribution to local communities than is recognised and it is a social centre now that the local pub has lost that value.
I wonder if our society is slowly becoming like battery chickens cooped up at home and not allowed out. The demise of the rural pub and post office means rural Ireland is disappearing quickly under our noses. Perhaps the next attack will be on places of worship, the last location where people can meet.
Post offices attract money into the local rural economy by providing customers with money to spend in shops. If a person receives money in a local post office, it is likely that person will spend the money in that post office. If a person receives the money in a large town, it is likely the person will spend the money there. That means a further drain on small shops and post offices, and many people are suffering.
The wide range of vital services for local and business customers includes cash deposits and withdrawals, stamps, parcel post, pensions and benefits collection and bill paying. Since 2001, the number of post offices has reduced from 1,750 to 1,350, a pattern which is continuing. We see it regularly and the most recent closure in Monaghan was in Rockcorry. It upsets the community greatly. Even if a village is expanding, with new houses being built, meaning is taken from the town by eliminating this service. It is the wrong policy.
An Post proposes to introduce agencies to sell stamps, provide pensions and welfare payments and give a reduced level of service. We should consider this again as a similar scenario evolved in Great Britain. That country made the courageous decision to support its rural post offices and it has the same type of community structure. It saw the value of keeping rural communities alive. We should take a leaf from that book and go forward in that direction.
Under an EU directive, from next year the Department of Social and Family Affairs will have to send out to tender to all financial institutions for the provision of the payments services. Until now, An Post has carried out this service and there is a great fear in rural post offices about this. Such post offices state that 50% of their gross income is generated by social welfare payments, and if that is the case, the Department's actions will sound the death knell for rural post offices.
We should think about what that means. It will be an end to a whole way of life and to the fabric of rural life, as the post office, with the pub and Garda station makes up such fabric. These and other facilities provide services for people and we have seen the demise of such services over the years. It is a vicious circle because if services are taken away, the population goes away. Who wants to stay in an area where there is no post office or garda, leaving no protection from marauding criminals, where children cannot be sent to school or where there is no doctor etc.? These issues matter.
Rural postmasters have an income of between €28,000 and €30,000 and from this costs such as rent, ESB, phones, wages, security etc. must be paid. The people in Carracastle in County Mayo held on to their post office.
I say to Government that we should be positive as this is a great opportunity for it to prove it is for the people, not for profit, and that it can do things. For example, how much of the banking done by Government could be diverted in some way to rural post offices? All the financial transactions could be decentralised to rural areas. If an effort was made to do so it would make a major difference. The Department of Social and Family Affairs must open tenders to everyone. Why not give rural post offices a chance? This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to prove it is of the people and does not want to see the demise of rural post offices. Now is its chance and it should take it.
I wish to declare a personal interest in this topic. My family has been involved in the post office business for many years.
I will concentrate on the issue of the 350 sub-post offices which have not yet been computerised. From any rational point of view, it is not credible that the Minister who owns An Post on behalf of the Irish citizens has not instructed it to computerise these offices. The Government seems to have no problem wasting hundreds of millions of euro on computerised voting machines or on a computer system to pay health wages which did not work. However, when it comes to spending a mere €3,000 or €4,000 to allow post offices to provide basic services to people in rural areas, the Minister refuses to use his power to direct An Post to do so.
Much confusion exists among Ministers on this matter. I understand the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs offered that his Department would pay for the computerisation of post offices in CLÁR areas. However, his Cabinet colleague refused to instruct An Post to accept this offer. Many postmasters and postmistresses offered to buy computers themselves. Community groups campaign actively to upgrade their local offices and would facilitate postmasters and postmistresses in this respect.
The chief executive of An Post states that little difference exists between computerised and non-computerised post offices. Recently, this was communicated in a letter to the post office in Lombardstown in my area which wishes to upgrade. It is incredible that the person whose job it is to promote and expand the service is so unaware of the real situation. A non-computerised office cannot provide Passport Express, mobile phone top-ups, AIB transactions or One4all gift vouchers or accept Garda fines. It takes so long to transact the bill payments which they can accept, it makes the entire process ineffective.
The response from An Post to the increasing demands to computerise the remaining post offices is to initiate a trial programme of automation in ten selected post offices. One of these is Schull in west Cork. This is a thriving tourist village during the summer months but inexplicably An Post needs a trial to justify computerisation. Aside from the needs of the locals, hundreds of people stay in holiday homes and thousands of tourists visit the village on a yearly basis.
An Post tells us that even though the trials have been completed no information will be available until March. This is astonishing considering An Post has had in place for years an accurate system to evaluate on a day-to-day basis the business done by each post office. In other areas in my constituency, such as Meelin, Dromahane, Tour, Tullylease and Freemount, full post office services have ceased. I already mentioned Lombardstown, as did Deputy Michael Moynihan, where the local community has mounted a massive campaign to computerise its post office. This issue is critical to this area and others like it.
An Post pays a pittance to postmasters and postmistresses at this level, in some cases far less than €10,000 per annum. From this postmasters and postmistresses must pay themselves, provide premises and pay for heating, lighting, rates and insurance. Many of them receive well below the minimum wage and are below the poverty line. This motion gives every Deputy in the House the opportunity to vote to ensure all post offices are computerised, postmasters and postmistresses in rural post offices are paid a decent wage and postal services such as letter delivery are maintained and expanded.
The public, postmasters and their union are led around in circles. The facts are simple. If the House votes in favour of this motion the Minister will have no option but to instruct An Post to computerise remaining post offices and enter into immediate negotiations with the postmasters union to ensure a reasonable decent wage is paid to the postmasters and postmistresses who run these offices. Computerisation will go a long way towards solving this problem as computerised offices will increase business and post offices are paid per transaction.
I emphasise this motion covers a large range of issues which must be dealt with to ensure An Post makes small post offices viable. By passing this motion, this House can ensure that clearly and once and for all the Minister gets the message that this small expenditure is necessary to ensure the survival of rural communities. I ask Government backbenchers to consider this when they cast their votes.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I commend Deputy Durkan for putting down this motion and bringing before the House an extremely important matter.
Local post offices are a vital component of the fabric of communities in rural Ireland. Traditionally, the local Garda station, the corner shop, the parish church, the primary school and in bigger towns the secondary school and the post office were the five focal points of a community. All these elements are now under attack. On this Government's watch Garda stations have closed down, particularly in rural areas, and corner shops are being wiped out by big supermarkets and the stealth taxes imposed by the Government. Churches witness falling congregations and schools are under enormous pressure as rising numbers of pupils are not met with increased resources from the Government.
The post office is facing an uncertain future. A local post office is important for all people. Above all, it is crucial for the elderly. The post office is important for human interaction for elderly people who are often isolated and lonely. Proprietors of post offices, like proprietors of corner shops, played and, luckily in some places, continue to play an important role in keeping an eye on older people and people living alone. They notice if an elderly person does not show up to receive his or her pension. This is invaluable and extremely worthwhile.
Ireland's post office network plays a central role and function in the social and economic life of the country and has done so since the foundation of the State. It is vital that An Post is in a position to provide a modern, efficient, reliable and competitive postal service. It is time for the Government to become proactive on preserving the future of our network of post offices. In this context, the Government must address any outstanding labour relations issues within An Post.
The Government must recognise the need to address the appalling low level of pay to a substantial number of postmasters. This issue has been ongoing for a long time and must be addressed. The Government has turned a blind eye to it. The Government must also recognise the existence of a public service obligation and the role the post office plays in the community, notwithstanding deregulation, and facilitate the development and extension of a wide range of compatible services through the post office network.
The Government must encourage all Departments, such as the Department of Social and Family Affairs, to use the services of An Post for payments or other financial transactions or transmissions and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to facilitate the provision of an accurate electoral register.
It is time to stop ignoring the perils which communities, especially those in rural Ireland, face. The Government is punch drunk on the amount of money coming to the Exchequer, but it must focus on the future and ask what will be its legacy to rural Ireland. It seems the legacy of the Government will be the closure of Garda stations, overcrowded schools, the closure of local shops, thanks in no small part to stealth taxes, and, above all, the closure of our post offices. This must not be allowed to happen.
I welcome this motion and thank my colleague, Deputy Durkan, for tabling it. It was quite interesting to listen to some speakers from the Government side effectively support the motion. We will wait and see if they put their money where their mouths are when it comes to 1.30 p.m. and they get the opportunity to vote on it.
The motion clearly recognises the central role and function of the post office network and its services to the social and economic life of this country. That applies especially, but not exclusively, to rural Ireland. It is something which practically all speakers acknowledged in their contributions, which shows how true and accurate the statement is in the motion. When it comes to action in respect of this issue, however, the reality is very different. In the relatively short period I have been in this House — four and a half years — several post offices in my constituency have closed. They have closed in the Pike of Rushall, The Heath and Ballyfin in County Laois and in Ballinagar, Rahan, Cadamstown and Fortel in County Offaly. Another post office in Shannon Harbour, which was a converted post office, has since closed. That is the reality for these towns and villages.
When one looks at the fact that 70% of social welfare payments are processed by post offices and that it is mainly elderly people who call in to collect those payments, one can see that post offices perform an extremely important social function. Aside from that social function, if people do not have a post office in their own village or rural area, they are forced to go to the next town, but how do they get to there? The rural transport scheme is not as effective as it should be and does not serve all the areas it should, particularly where post offices have closed. If a person orders a taxi, he or she must pay for it to come to his or her home, to take him or her into the town and then to bring him or her home. A person could spend €20 or €30 of his or her pension on the process of collecting it. That is the reality of life in rural Ireland.
It is very easy for An Post to use the excuse that it cannot get staff to work in post offices. I have heard this excuse time and again. There is a reason An Post cannot get staff. I would not work for the amount of money being offered and neither would An Post and it is disgraceful that it expects other people to work for that amount of money. The reality is that these people are working for below the minimum wage. I attended a meeting in Thurles last January or February with post office staff, postmasters from around the midlands and that part of Tipperary, and from listening to them the position was clear, but it was more fascinating to listen to the speeches made by all the politicians there from all sides of the House who agreed 100% with what they said. It is nearly one year later, but nothing has changed in respect of them. If private sector companies did not pay their staff the minimum wage, they would be prosecuted, and rightly so.
An Post should not get away with that. I know the situation is different because contracts are involved, but the reality is that at the end of the week staff are not getting the minimum wage. That is wrong and should be against the law, no matter how it is concocted. These people also subsidise An Post by providing premises, and that should be borne in mind.
In respect of computerisation, it is difficult to believe that at the end of 2006 all post offices do not have access to proper computer hardware and software. People would not believe that the situation is so ridiculous. Deputy Gerard Murphy mentioned mobile phone top-ups. This country has one of the highest ratios of mobile phones per head of population. Topping up a mobile phone is a basic service that should be readily available in towns and villages, especially for the benefit of vulnerable people. It is one example of many services that could be offered by post offices which would make the post office network more viable in the long term.
I ask Members to support this motion. In particular, I ask the Government to support the retention of the network of rural post offices in particular. With Garda stations, it is another area of rural life that is being steadily eroded. It is not simply a soft argument to say that post offices are part of the social fabric. It is the reality because the post office is one of the only points of communication for many people in rural Ireland. It is the last meeting place that exists in some very small villages and we have a social responsibility to these people to keep this network up and running.
I thank Deputy Durkan for tabling this very important motion on the vital role of rural post offices. It is terrible that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, put the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who is my constituency colleague, in the firing line because I know he is very much in favour of rural post offices.
When a post office is due to be closed in any part of the country, every backbencher visits that area and tells the local people that they are behind them and that they want to see the post office kept open, but when they have the opportunity to press the right button, they do the opposite.
I will come to that. Every Minister and Government backbencher says one thing in his or her constituency while saying the opposite in Dublin. This Government is brilliant at speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It is a master at doing that.
Deputy Enright spoke about our social responsibility. Members on both sides of the House have a social responsibility to protect rural communities and rural Ireland. In protecting Ireland, we must take into account the vital role of the post office, which is very important in all aspects of a community. It is a vitally important meeting place for elderly people once a week. I know that is not the only aspect to keeping the local post office open because there are many other aspects.
Over a long number of years, there has been a great tradition of families keeping rural post offices open and keeping the fabric of the rural community ticking over. It is very sad to see post offices closing. I will give one example. We all talk about protecting rural villages across the country. A post office opened in a village in Wexford, of which the Minister of State might be aware. This post office was downgraded to a sub-post office where it was not possible to carry out much business and then it closed down completely. An Post has introduced a little green box where people can put their letters, with the post being collected at 10.30 a.m. Over the past four or five years, a REPS planner, an architecture firm, an accountancy firm and an engineering company have located in the vicinity of that local village. In one sense, we are building up the local villages, but the most important part of the fabric of such villages is the rural post office, which the Government is closing.
People are being encouraged to move their businesses out of towns to rural areas, but we are not giving them much encouragement to set up their businesses in small villages. It is great to see all these people, entrepreneurs coming to smaller villages and communities across the country and establishing their businesses there.
It is ironic to see that the Government has a great opportunity to make social welfare payments in local post offices. The Government has an obligation but it will turn back on it. I assure the House that people will not get social welfare payments in any post office in a few years if this Government has anything to do with it because it wants to take out the rural communities and rural post offices. The Government, the Minister and the Minister of State have a great opportunity to contact the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to ensure that payments are made through post offices. I have no doubt that people on social welfare payments would be glad to get them through the local post office to keep it going.
In respect of computerisation and automation of rural post offices, I was involved in trying to get a post office automated. The process took two or three years and the post office had to go through a considerable amount of red tape. The post office received no help from the opposite side of the House.
The postmaster said to me he was fed up going to the Government Members in the constituency and that he may go to the Opposition Members. I said that if the Government could not do anything, I might not be able to either. However, we got it done anyway.
Imagine what I would be able to do for the local post offices if I were on the other side of the House. After the next general election, I have no doubt we will be on that side of the House, Deputy Durkan will be Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and every post office in rural Ireland will be safe and sound.
Batt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, regrets he cannot address the House this afternoon.
Following from yesterday's interesting debate, it is clear we are all agreed on the importance of the postal service and the post office network. A vibrant, efficient postal service is an important aspect of any successful economy and it is vital therefore that An Post continues to return to a secure financial footing and prepares to meet all the challenges ahead. The Government is pleased to note from yesterday's proceedings that all sides of the House support An Post and its staff in their day-to-day business and their endeavours to support, develop and sustain the postal service and the post office network.
The Government recognises the critical importance of having a nationwide, reliable and efficient postal service and, as set out clearly in the programme for Government, it and the board of An Post remain committed to the objective of ensuring a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network.
We recognise a key role for An Post in the years to come, both in terms of the delivery of mail and as a quality service provider of government and financial services. Recent developments on the An Post financial services venture in association with the Belgian bank, Fortis, will go a long way towards helping An Post deliver on this objective. Much work has been put into the initiative and credit must go to all involved in the process. On that note, I join my colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and Deputy O'Flynn, in urging the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, to re-examine the position it has recently taken on the joint venture and to consider the long-term benefits such a deal could afford to its members, the postmasters, An Post and post office customers across the country. A successful roll-out of the joint venture would undoubtedly be good for business and would thereby help prepare An Post and its agents for full market opening. An Post has an extensive retail network and a trusted brand name, which it must utilise completely to compete effectively in a liberalised market.
Liberalisation is the biggest challenge facing An Post. The company is wisely preparing for full market opening and competition from 2009. The Government remains confident that once the initial challenges have been overcome, full competition in the postal market will ultimately be good for both An Post and Irish consumers. It is, however, imperative that the company restructures itself effectively and that management and trade unions in An Post work together to transform the company into an efficient and modern service provider by implementing the agreed restructuring programme.
This is not the time for complacency. By embracing the necessary changes in a positive manner, management and staff in An Post will help to move the company in the direction it needs to go if it is to maintain current contracts and compete for further business. The existing contract with the Department of Social and Family Affairs regarding welfare payments, for example, is very important to the company, but given recent developments in Europe, it is likely that, in future, this contract will have to be put out to tender and that An Post will face stiff competition in its effort to retain it.
The development of the postal market requires the availability of competitive, high quality products. The current level of market opening has introduced new players with offerings that meet consumer needs and further market opening will provide further opportunities for new and existing market players. The development of further competition, allied with a modernised and customer-focused An Post, will provide the basis for the further development of the postal sector.
There was some discussion yesterday regarding quality of service standards in terms of mail deliveries, and while I accept that the situation is not yet wholly satisfactory, An Post is working closely with ComReg to resolve the issues that arise. This will be of particular importance in the context of liberalisation.
The Government continues to support An Post. Given the urban-rural divide, the provision of high quality, competitively priced postal services, while ensuring the protection of universal service in a liberalised market, will be of critical importance. We therefore intend to maintain the postal services on a five-day week basis. It is fair to say we all recognise the importance of the postal sector to the country as a whole and to individual towns and villages. The Government will continue to support An Post and help it to become a successful, efficient and dynamic organisation, operating successfully and profitably in a changing environment.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I congratulate Deputy Durkan on tabling the motion. Post offices are very important to rural society, not only because they provide services but also because they comprise a social arm of the State in the delivery of those services to many sections of society.
I ask that the outstanding labour relations difficulties concerning salaries and pension payments, which have led to so much distress and distrust among An Post's workforce, be addressed by way of the Government generating a sense of urgency and acting as a catalyst to solve the problem.
It is a disgrace that assistance has not been given for the computerisation, modernisation and upgrading of the entire network of post offices and sub-post offices. In this day and age, even the smallest businesses are computerised. An Post's services should be computerised to ensure efficiency.
The low pay received by a substantial number of postmasters, who are effectively subsidising the service by providing premises and working for less than the minimum wage and who are sometimes below the poverty line, must be addressed. The United Kingdom has recognised the importance of the post office network and the postmasters therefore receive a minimum payment of £9,000. This should be a ballpark figure on the basis of which the policy to ensure the continuation of the network in Ireland is developed.
I agree with the Minister of State that deregulation will be one of the greatest threats to the post office network but there are three years to prepare for it. The development and extension of a wide range of compatible services through the post offices should be achieved to ensure that, when deregulation occurs, An Post will be able to submit a tender and continue to be an arm of the Department of Social and Family Affairs through the payment of social welfare payments. Research should be undertaken on the use other Departments could make of the post office to ensure it has a place.
We congratulate Deputy Durkan on tabling this motion and reiterate that the Government has a duty to stop the decline of rural Ireland. One way to do so is to ensure the continuation of post offices and halt the stealthy closure of post offices, as in my area. Nobody will take over when the postmaster retires because it is not worthwhile to do so.
I thank the speakers, on both sides of the House, who contributed to this debate. A total of 25 speakers contributed over the three hours, all of whom supported the content of the motion. All raised the issues affecting the post office network throughout the country and were ad idem with the concept as set out in the motion. The only discordant note came from the Government amendment which is in the usual fashion a case of little heads stuck firmly in the ground and derrières in the air.
I was most disappointed by the speech of the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, last night. He repeated a history lesson but we all know the history; we could write it at this stage. He failed to say what the Government intends to propose now as we enter a new era of deregulation, one which has not proved happy for the Government. When transposed into Irish law, the EU regulations have had a negative effect on many aspects of our life. The European model to which the Government is wedded has some benefits and many demerits. That is what speakers addressed over the past two days.
The Minister of State also failed to recognise the competition in the marketplace and the degree to which the viability of An Post will depend on the network in place. There are no capital costs involved, apart from those required to keep the service going. The critical point that came through the contributions was the necessity to upgrade and automate all the post offices and stop fiddling around.
It does not take an economist to tell the Government that if it wants to run a fast, effective nationwide service, it should find out who has the best network to provide it. No other organisation has a network like An Post that can provide an effective nationwide service and has plenty of experience of doing so. Over recent years we have discussed this topic in the House and addressed meetings in front of the House when postal workers and postmasters were not getting a hearing. We were all at one as to what should be done for the future but this has not happened. The prevarication in the meantime is the most serious problem affecting the future of the postal services.
Various people have talked about the viability of the sector. I worry that it is intended to close more post offices, as colleagues on both sides of the House have said. If that happens, the effectiveness and viability of the service will be weakened because it will not be possible for it to compete. The Government must take policy by the scruff of the neck and recognise that with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, who has ultimate responsibility, it must say this is what we want to happen.
Speakers have referred to electronic competition and the changing era in which we live. An Post can change too. A variety of services can be tagged on to the post office system with minimal effort. It can become an attractive and profitable service. I commend the work undertaken so far by the chief executive and the review, but it is not fast enough. An Post knows that and it requires support, as do the postmasters.
It is timely to recognise how much we rely on the postal service as we come into the festive period. We could greatly extend the services that could be tagged on in the festive periods throughout the year. The initial vision for An Post when it became a semi-State body was that it would develop into other areas and provide other services compatible with the existing services. Somewhere along the way that faded because there was no commitment.
What is the vision now? We know what it must be — to provide a competitive, efficient, reliable next day delivery service throughout the country. That is the nature of competition. An Post can do that only with the support of the Government. Then it will be alive and well in 50 years' time and providing services not heretofore envisaged. It is high time that we recognised that mission statement and supported and pursued it. The Minister is the only person who can do it.
We have become very conscious of the need to comply with regulation and deregulation, and have seen numerous examples of it going wrong because the Government slavishly followed everything that was handed down to it. The Government was in a position to negotiate these regulations through the Council of Ministers before they became law through the Commission. We have seen the demise of the fishing industry, as a result of Government inaction over recent years. We have seen too the beginning of the demise of the agricultural and food producing sector. Anybody who is around in 50 years' time will look back and ask why that was done. Other EU states watch their own interests much better than we do.
There are serious signs of the Government's neglect in this area. We are not fighting our corner. There are signs of the demise of the telecommunications sector. From having been at the leading edge of the telecommunications industry throughout Europe, we are now back markers, in last or second last place. This is an appalling performance at a time when the country's coffers are overflowing with money. We will see further examples of that later today.
The manufacturing sector has disappeared through high costs and stealth taxes to which my colleagues referred. This has culminated in over 34,000 jobs being relocated to other destinations, yet we hold up our hands and say we are better off here because we have a high wage economy.
The Government has virtually closed down the health sector. Services for which patients clamour daily are no longer available. When we ask about that we are told "nobody knows". The services required daily in the education sector are not delivered despite the great wealth available to the Government. It has failed to tackle crime which has become popular and profitable and grows more so every day.
The Government has brought traffic to a halt, yet it has more money than it ever had to play with previously. In spite of having all that money, the members of the Government parties must ask themselves whether they intend to support the postal service in the future. If not, they should say so. If they do, the Members on that side of the House who supported our motion should vote with us. In so doing, it will be a recognition that somebody on that side has a conscience and recognises the needs of the service.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 79 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Jim McDaid, Michael McDowell, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 63 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, James Breen, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Simon Coveney, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Mildred Fox, Eamon Gilmore, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Marian Harkin, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Jackie Healy-Rae, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Denis Naughten, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 80 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Jim McDaid, Michael McDowell, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 67 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, James Breen, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Simon Coveney, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Mildred Fox, Eamon Gilmore, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Marian Harkin, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Jackie Healy-Rae, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.