Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to the Chamber. I am trying to remember whether I have spoken in the House when she was here before. We have had a crazy year and it has been hard to get speaking slots. I am not sure whether I congratulated her on her appointment and wished her well. I would like to put that on the record today. I thank her for being here for this important debate.

I come from a very rural area in County Tipperary. I would be surprised if anyone here lives in as rural an area as I do. My home is just outside a very small village that has a school, church and community hall, and that is it. We have no pub, shop or post office. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful and brilliant community and I am very proud of being from there. We used to have a shop and post office until 2017 or so. It was run by a man called Frank Hughes, who is now retired. Approximately two years ago, his grandchild, Michael Hughes, was in his final year in college as a film student, and a very talented one at that.He is qualified now. For his final year project he did a short film on his own grandfather's shop and post office and what it meant to the community. The film was called "The Shop That Was". It was a look back at when Frank started in Grange, when he first came and bought the shop in the 1980s. I am not sure what year it was. I was very young and he was there for as long as I remember. In the late 1980s or early 1990s he developed a post office in the shop as well. The concept of the film was acknowledging what someone has done and their contribution to their community. There was almost a premiere in our village for the launch of the film. I was lucky enough to be near Clonmel at the time so I got to speak at it. It was in the community hall, which was jam-packed with people, which is totally alien to what we are used to nowadays. It had not been that way for years. It is a small village with a small community and very few services. The film was shown and there was chat and everything afterwards. Even though it was a celebration of the life of someone who is still alive and his contribution to the community, there was an essence of sadness in it because of what we have lost as a community in terms of the post office and shop and what they bring to a community as well as being able to post a letter or buy bread, milk and a newspaper. Almost everyone who was at the short film premiere in our village spoke about the sense of loss and what having a post office can do to a community. Previous speakers have spoken about how the only interaction a lot of people have in a week is going to the post office to meet the person there. What has happened in the past year is that it has changed to the postman delivering post being the only interaction people have. In the course of the debate today speakers refer to how numerous post offices around the country have been closed. There has been a realignment of how the post office network operates. We can all see in our own village what it does to a community to lose a post office.

As a State, we have an obligation to make sure that when we restructure the post office network we support it in the way that we can. No one is under any illusion that how the post office worked five, ten or 20 years ago is the same way it should work now. Times are changing and everyone understands that, but it does not mean that we should end up in with a cliff scenario, as happened with my post office in Grange, where everything just goes under. The Government must support post offices to change the way they work and to have new services. Other speakers have referred to the ability to administer driving licences and motor tax. Many post offices have the capability to do that and we must allow them to do so or to bring an orderly end of life to some post offices. We must not have a situation where almost overnight we hear four post offices in Tipperary, three in Kerry and two in Galway are closed. We must give back to the people who have given an awful lot, and not alone by providing a service but by giving to the community. We must give them an opportunity to transition to either finish a service they have provided for many years or, in a bigger town, to give an opportunity to expand and grow. I commend the opportunity to discuss the Private Members' motion tabled. The sum of €17 million a year is not an awful lot of money given the scale of what we are spending at the moment to support an organisation that is hugely beneficial to areas right across the country.


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