Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

As part of my party's commitment to rural Ireland, we decided to put forward this motion and it is an opportunity to acknowledge the vital importance of post offices to all our communities. Post offices are the fabric not just of rural Ireland but also of urban Ireland and they provide an important social as well as commercial service.

When I was growing up in Rathangan, and I am sure we all had the same positive experience of the post office aligned to the area where we grew up, we had the most wonderful post mistress, Molly Forde, whom I have spoken about previously. She really was an influential person, not just in my life but in the lives of everybody in the community. Ms Forde dispensed advice and wisdom as much as she dispensed stamps when we went into the post office. There was an intergenerational connection with her and her team. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but I think of her fondly often and the influence she had.

When I went to Carysfort College of Education in Blackrock as a young student leaving home for the first time, not knowing anyone else and being quite lonely, there was a small post office just at the back entrance to the college which was run by a lovely couple. They were the kindest of people. Students, particularly new students, would go into the post office to get stamps to send their letters home. This was well before emails, phone calls were expensive, nobody had mobiles and one had to queue up with coins. Letters were the way to go, which was a wonderful thing. The kindness that couple showed to many students was exemplary.

Many years later, I was backpacking around the world and I think again of the kindness of a couple in the suburb of Fairlight in Sydney in Australia. A few months before I eventually came back to Ireland, I was sending items home to Rathangan.They could not have been nicer. When I eventually arrived home, I found there was not one but two parcels, as well as a lovely letter from the couple saying that they had realised afterwards that the parcel was too heavy. They went to the trouble of getting two boxes and dividing everything between them. It was the kindest and nicest thing to do.

All of the post offices in this country run an invaluable service in helping and supporting people. There is no doubt that we need a new form of public service obligation payment to post offices that are commercially non-viable but provide the important social function I have described. This will ensure that even the most isolated communities have access to a post office. Incredible service has been given by post offices during the pandemic. That is certainly true of the service I received from Brendan Kelly and his team in Newbridge in sending small parcels to siblings and friends who I was not able to meet. The postman often was the only person calling to the house. I heard about older people writing to themselves to ensure a visit from the postman to their home on an ongoing basis, or sending a letter to a family member purely to talk to the postmaster. That absolutely shows us the importance of the whole post office network.

We must increase the array of financial services offered by post offices and develop a new community banking model. I come from a county in which the towns of Kilcullen and Monasterevin recently lost their Bank of Ireland branches. It is more important than ever that we build up post offices' existing financial services, such as currency exchange and bill payment, and ensure communities can access them. We should transform post offices into hubs for State services. It is incredible what Sean Fogarty, the postmaster in Ballymore Eustace, has done. He has set up a cycle café at his premises, the country's first online medical consultation service, VideoDoc, and an eGovernment service. There is a huge number of services that could be given to the post offices to deliver. We have lost four post offices in my area, in Moone, Narraghmore and Donadea, as well as in Ballybrittas in County Laois, which is part of the Kildare South constituency. I have spoken to those communities and seen the devastation they have undergone because of the lack of this vital service.

We do not want to see any more post office closures. We must acknowledge that many of them cannot pay their own way. The extra €17.5 million a year that the postmasters have said is needed would be money well spent to ensure this vital service, which is the hub of many communities, is not lost.


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