Monday, 26 April 2021
Post Office Network: Motion
Well done to Senator Dooley for bringing this motion forward. We have all probably been inundated with communication from post office owners and postmasters. I certainly have been. There is much stress in that sector. It is good that we have this motion and that the Government is taking it seriously. It is important that people realise An Post is State-owned and, as a Government, it is our responsibility to try to do all we can for post offices.
It is imperative that we save post offices. I will go so far as to say that I hope we could look into reopening some of the closed post offices. In some cases, people were willing to run some of the post offices which closed. If we do a good job, we should be able to make some of those that were closed viable again. For example, the post office in Broadford, in east Clare, is closed but that village will be a boom town. Once we get the water infrastructure, there will be many new houses and it will be busy place for people to live. We will see that post-Covid. People are moving to places and places are getting busy that never were before. I was in Labasheeda on Saturday and many old houses are being done up.There is a new café opening and the post office is doing well. Things are going to change and it will not be the case that people will only go to one or two places. Staycationing is going to change everything and people are going to discover places they never knew existed. There are lots of hidden gems of small rural areas that are going to be discovered. We will not all want to go to the same places that are packed and busy, we will want to spread out a bit more.
A programme should be put in place to encourage children and teenagers with confirmation or pocket money to open accounts in the post office rather than the bank. Last Saturday I met a lovely man called Mike Cassidy, who is heavily involved in the Tidy Towns group in Labasheeda, which, by the way, has the best public seating I have ever seen in any village or town. Mike was with the postmistress, Mary Hehir, and I had a good chat with them. I was on my bike. One always gets a chance to chat with people when one is not in a car. It was sunny, of course, and we were all going slow. They made a very good point to me. There is a lot of funding available at the moment and I completely disagree with Senator Mullen's argument that rural Ireland is not getting much. I would say that rural Ireland has received more since last July than ever before, although we will keep looking for more, of course. This Government is doing a lot for rural Ireland, I would argue. Just because a few loud independent representatives start shouting and roaring when it is not their turn does not mean we should feed into the rural versus urban narrative too much. The Government is not split in that way. Anyway, Mike and Mary made a very good point. We have been giving a great deal of funding to Tidy Towns and community groups, and more is coming down the line, but the money has to go into a bank account. Most people in Labasheeda have a post office account because there is a post office there and they can do their banking locally. However, any funding that comes from the State is channelled through banks. I would like to see that changed so that such moneys can be channelled through post office accounts. Money has to be transferred from bank accounts to post office accounts so people can access it. As we know, many bank branches are closing and there are fewer of them. They are disappearing more quickly than the post offices at this stage. This means that people have to travel to larger towns, which we should be discouraging in the context of climate change mitigation.
In this day and age, everything seems to be going online. The post office is the last bastion of hope for older people. If we do not keep them open and thriving, it will be quite ageist. Older people need one-on-one interaction and many are stressed by trying to figure out how to do things online. It is so stressful for them. The post office can be the place to get help, where someone can talk them through how to do things and keep it simple. There is an opportunity for the post office to be that place for older people. Sometimes it is harder for older people to learn how to do things online. My father is great and he is able but I have shown him how to do certain things lots of times but he still cannot do it because it is just so abstract. The post office has a huge part to play in that regard.
Post offices also play a huge role for people in a social and mental health context. I urge the Minister of State to work to make sure that the post offices we have remain open and viable by turning them into places to which people go for many different reasons, not just for financial services. Nowadays, one sees coffee shops with their own-brand merchandise. Maybe we could have the same for our villages and towns and it could be sold at a profit. I am thinking of things like an Ennistymon reusable water bottle, a Broadford reusable coffee cup and so on. There are ways in which post offices could sell things that are useful in the context of the new, green economy. The post office could be the one-stop shop in which to get such things. I thank the Minister of State for her work to date in this area.
I do my best to cycle but three times now when cycling in Dublin I have come across An Post vans parked in cycle lanes. This is not good enough. On my way over here earlier, I was faced with being shoved out into traffic. I said to the driver that I did not want to be pushed out the in the traffic; there is a cycle lane and I want to use it. I said that it was not fair, he was shoving me out into the traffic. He said, "Life ain't fair love", laughed and hopped into the van. An Post is owned by the State. We have put in infrastructure and at least where we have cycle infrastructure, can we please be allowed to use it? I know this is not directly connected to the motion before us, which I strongly support. We must do all we can for post offices but I ask that An Post drivers would not park in cycle lanes.