Monday, 26 April 2021
Post Office Network: Motion
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome this opportunity to say a few words on post offices and not for the first time. We have had quite a number of debates on post offices and post office closures over the years. I compliment Senator Dooley on tabling the motion, which is very important, as Senator Chambers has said. This issue needs quite a lot of debate because many post offices have closed, and in recent years there has been a big shift in how business is done in many ways and not just with regard to postal services.
I remember quite a number of years ago I expressed concern that another financial institution was opening in my home town of Castlebar. It was the 14th institution in Castlebar where people could get credit, loans or money. Now we have gone full circle and Castlebar will have considerably fewer financial institutions. It is not all about competition. Competition is fine to a certain point but businesses have to make money and make a profit. They cannot survive otherwise. This is why there is such a big shift in banking infrastructure. The banking institutions have to make ends meet. With the reduction in interest rates, the basis for them to make money is not there and they have to find other ways of making it. We know what they are and we can see why they are closing and pulling out of Ireland.
Perhaps not everybody here but many of us have witnessed how the post offices have worked over a long number of years, with regard to telegrams and parcels, as Senator O'Loughlin has said. It has provided great services, and not just postal services, to local communities.My home county has seen quite a number of post offices over a vast area closed in recent years with the result that there is not one post office in a large chunk of central Mayo. They cannot survive because neither the population nor the business is there. The area I come from had two shops, a post office, two pubs and a Garda barracks. Now there is no shop, no Garda barracks, no post office and one pub. That is not uncommon in large areas throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Many proposals have been made in respect of banking services but other services could be provided by the post office. I remember going to the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr. Ross, to ask him to let the post offices bid for the driver licence contract. He did not take much heed of anything I had to say in that respect. It was a golden opportunity at the time but one that was missed.
I believe the post office network could provide social services. This should be looked at. We have all spoken in this Chamber, in other chambers and in the Dáil about social exclusion. This is an area where the post office could become involved. Post offices could provide a great service throughout the length and breadth of the country. They could co-ordinate many of the relevant services. Postmasters and postmistresses know their areas and the people in their areas. They know the vulnerable people. They know their areas inside out. I believe this area should be looked at. Social services could be co-ordinated by the post offices. It would be an ideal opportunity. This area should be looked at, especially in rural areas. We have seen over the years how social exclusion, loneliness and people living on their own in rural areas can be problematic. The person who knows all those people best is the postmaster or postmistress. I believe they could co-ordinate many of the social services. I believe it is an area the Minister of State could examine to see whether they could provide those services. This could be done.
I compliment those in the post office network on the services they have delivered and co-ordinated over the years. The post office services provided were accountable and transparent. The service stacks up and is dependable. The people in charge, the postmasters and postmistresses, did a great service to the country over many years. I believe that with some ingenuity, with the structure in place and with the people involved much could be done and they could deliver the services that I have spoken about.