Monday, 26 April 2021
Post Office Network: Motion
I thank Fianna Fáil for the motion, which sets out how this is about post offices in urban and rural areas. While there is, obviously and inevitably, much focus on the viability of rural post offices and their important place in rural communities, I can attest to the great importance of post offices in urban villages like my village of Phibsborough. I grew up in a small place called Carrignavar in Cork, where the post office was at the heart of the community. The post office in Phibsborough, which is an urban area, occupies the same important place in providing services to those of all ages in the locality. I am reminded of my first political campaign, which was to save Phibsborough post office from closing down in its current form. An Post was under financial pressure and was looking at the small number of branch post offices still within its network - the majority are run by independent contractors.With the support of the local community, we managed to get An Post to change its mind. Of course, if it were to outsource the post office to an independent contractor, there was most likely going to be a loss of services and less money to sustain the functioning of the post office, which is not something that we, as a community, could countenance. An Post, to its credit, backed away and the venue remains a branch post office.
There is a bigger issue at play and many Senators have spoken about the closure of post offices in their own areas. We have to ask why and consider the business model behind so many of the post offices in this country because An Post cannot stop a contractor, the postmaster or postmistress, from calling it a day because of financial pressures or a desire to retire. If we are to stop the flow of losses in communities, as a result post offices closing down, then we must consider how we financially support An Post to negotiate contracts that allow a contractor to make a living and provide all of the necessary services. We need to have this discussion and that is why we very much support the amendments in terms of the €17 million, having a discussion on the new public service obligation and the development of hubs. It is fine to have words on paper stating that we want the interdepartmental working group to consider directing more Government business to the post office network. Some of the aspirations are well founded and well meaning, and we very much support them, but this House must make a concrete call that expresses Senators' support for An Post.
In terms of opportunities for post offices, Senators have mentioned the closure of 88 branches of Bank of Ireland, and the exit of Ulster Bank and KBC. It is positive to hear that there is some agreement in the works between An Post and Bank of Ireland but we need more details. For example, there are serious questions concerning instant access lodgements. Will the An Post network provide the service like we had within a Bank of Ireland branch? Are we going to have night safes for businesses so lodgements can be made? Are we going to have ATMs? If we can have ATMs in shops, we can surely have them on the walls of post offices. Bank of Ireland has ATMs on some walls of its branches and with closures, those ATMs will go, which will be a massive loss to many communities, in particular for anyone who wants to access their cash out of hours and outside of post office hours.
To conclude, the Labour Party supports the motion and urges support for the amendments. I thank my colleagues on this side of the House for putting forward these important amendments. We need to put figures behind the support from this House for An Post.