Monday, 26 April 2021
Post Office Network: Motion
Given that Senator Dooley has expressed his support, I am sure he will facilitate that amendment passing.
We know the post office network remains a highly valuable national asset, which contributes hugely to our economy and society. It must be protected. Unfortunately, however, we know that is not what is happening. Over the past number of decades, we have seen the encroachment of a business mentality into the provision of public services in this country. This approach demands that our public services constantly justify their existence by making a profit instead of serving the needs of the community. This mentality is visible in what is being allowed to happen to our post offices. There is a shortfall between the cost of running post offices and the revenue they generate. Such narrow metrics fail to capture the true benefit of the postal network, however.The review of the economic contribution and financial sustainability of the Irish post office network by Grant Thornton highlights the true benefits of post offices very clearly, and that the social return they deliver for communities and, indeed, the economic return communities get from post offices, is enormous. Therefore, not only are the social and economic returns significant, they are far greater than the €17 million that would be required for the PSO.
Undoubtedly, An Post faces funding challenges, but the answer is not to simply remove the vital infrastructure; the answer is to invest in it, and to do that urgently, and to offer new services. In addition to a PSO, Sinn Féin wants to see more services delivered through our local post offices. There is an opportunity to explore the role post offices could play in providing energy services, as highlighted by the 2016 Kerr report. There are massive challenges in retrofitting our housing stock which An Post could well be suited to addressing, in addition to banking. One example is supporting people through the process of applying for energy saving grants. The applications are often technical and daunting, and the post office could become the front-facing part of a one-stop shop in helping people access information and support for energy saving grants. This can be a win-win situation through increasing the uptake of these grants and providing our post offices with a new avenue of business.
The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications is well suited to exploring the possibilities in this area. An Post has led by example in respect of its climate obligations. Most of its fleet is now electric, for example, so we have seen the company take a leadership role in this area and it is perfectly placed to do this. An Post can also have a role in bringing on stream the national database for microchipping of dogs, and linking that to the dog licensing system, which is also managed by An Post. It could therefore be the location as well for a national database on microchipping. Bringing those processes into one location would make it much easier for people to know where their pets are.
I will leave it there. As I said, however, we have several amendments. I mention amendment No. 5, in particular, and we hope we will get the support for the PSO levy.