Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I disagree with much of what Senator Mullen said. There is nothing meek about this motion. From the perspective of the Fianna Fáil Party, protecting and advocating for our post office network is something we have been doing for many years. That is the reason it is still on the agenda. There is a Government commitment to maintain and modernise the post office network and ensure that it is sustainable and that post offices can survive in the changing environment through which the country is moving. I take umbrage with what Senator Mullen said. He focused far more on the drafting of the motion than on the issue itself. That is regrettable.

In terms of any suggestion that there is contempt on this side of the House for the people of rural Ireland, I, as a person who lives in rural Ireland, can assure the Senator that, from my party's perspective, there is no contempt. There is nothing but support for the people of rural Ireland. We know the importance of the post office network to the people of rural Ireland but also to the people of urban Ireland because they also use the post office network. This is not an urban versus rural issue. This is a national issue and there is Government support for the motion to make sure that we protect our post office network and ensure that it can survive. It is not about maintaining things exactly as they are all of the time. We want to modernise. An Post wants to modernise. It has been doing that without the Government pushing it to do so. It has been doing that anyway because it is being led by demand and by people. We have seen that with its Parcel Connect product. All the new products it is bringing online is being done because it is listening to its customers and responding to their demands.

This motion is an opportunity. The inference is that this is just a general debate on the post office network. We debate many issues in this House and every debate has its merits and positive outcomes. It is important to be positive about this motion and to know that there is Government support to maintain the network is positive. That was not always the case heretofore but there is now a very strong commitment to that.

Senator Mullen mentioned the Grant Thornton report. Just because it is not physically written into the motion does not mean we are not acknowledging it. In fact, there are references to it in my notes. We are well aware of that report and what it contains. It has formed the basis of the policies the Government has taken. It is a welcome report that contains many good elements. It certainly merits debate but the Senator understands that everything is not put into the wording of a motion. Its purpose is to promote debate but not every single digit must be expressed on the page.

I commend Senator Dooley on bringing the motion to the groups and getting it drafted with the support of our members. It is welcome to have an opportunity, as a House of the Oireachtas, to debate the issue and what the post office network means to citizens. Very often we focus on the economic aspects to this issue but there is a social value to the post office network. Many members have discussed that. I refer to what it means to a local community to have that hub and that space that people can use.

I think it was Senator O'Loughlin who spoke about the additional services and the post office networking going above and beyond in terms of assisting its customers and the local people because there is local knowledge. The postmaster or postmistress will know his or her community. He or she will know the people living in the area. That is an important relationship and connection and it would be foolish to dispense with a network that has been built up over generations. Nobody is suggesting we do that and nobody wants to see that. We are here to talk about how we can modernise, protect and make sure that the network survives and thrives into the future.

Since this debate started a number of years ago, things have changed dramatically. We are coming through a pandemic and we have seen seismic shifts in the banking sector.This lends itself to an even stronger argument for giving more to the post office network and empowering it to deliver additional banking services. Now we have Bank of Ireland pulling out of certain communities. We also have Ulster Bank and KBC pulling out of Ireland. The banking sector is in trouble. We have said this on the floor of the House on many occasions. Let us turn this negative into a positive for the post office network and empower the post office network, along with the credit unions, to assist us in delivering greater banking services to our citizens and ensure there is greater competition in the market, which we all want to see. There are a lot of positives to be taken out of this.

We have to dispense with the rhetoric and popular suggestion that things will always stay the same. Nothing stays static. Things move and change and the public is well ahead of us on this. The public is demanding changes to the network and wants to see the network survive but the public does not expect it to stay exactly the same. I say this as somebody who lives in a small community where there used to be a post office a stone's throw from my family home. It is not there any more but there are bigger post offices a little bit closer by that are doing very well. People are supporting them and they want to see the Government support them.

We hear on the floor of the House today that there is strong Government support to protect the network, and the public will be really happy with this. It is incumbent on us all to work towards finding solutions, new ideas and thinking outside the box. How can we modernise the network to make sure it survives because it is competing with private companies for certain products, be it banking products, financial services or parcel delivery? It is competing against private sector companies, and this will always be a challenge because we expect a different standard from An Post in its treatment of its workers and employees and those who avail of the services. We expect the highest standards and it always delivers the highest standards.

It is important to commend An Post on having been an innovative organisation in recent years. In the face of significant adversity with all of the private providers coming on board to put it up to An Post in terms of competition, it has done a fantastic job of reimagining and reinventing its organisation, protecting its workers and employees and delivering a stellar service in the most difficult of times. Government support will not be found wanting and I am sure it will be the same on the Opposition benches because we are all working for the greater good. We are all working to make sure that, collectively as a House, we deliver for citizens, and this is the most important element in the debate rather than critiquing back and forth individually.


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