Monday, 26 April 2021
Post Office Network: Motion
I thank all Members who have contributed in a positive way to the debate on this motion and I thank the Minister of State for her endurance in listening to all the points. It is now really up to the Minister of State and the Government to take on board all the points she has heard to ensure at long last we reach a point where post offices are seen as an integral part of their community and do not limp on month to month, year to year and change to change without really knowing whether they will survive. We must get away from the principle of a post office just being a profit-and-loss operation. It is about its integrated nature with regard to the community by providing services to meet the needs of the people.
Of course, it is incumbent on An Post and the Government to identify more services to create better footfall through post offices, but as I have emphasised on many occasions and has been laid bare in the Grant Thornton report, post offices themselves cannot be seen as viable based on transactions. There must be State support that sits behind them. The view I have expressed on many occasions is the necessity for a public service obligation to exist and an annual funding stream from Government to An Post as a means of ensuring the long-term sustainability of the network. We must give that confidence and show that support to the postmasters and postmistresses so that we do not wear them down one by one until such time as they are capable no longer, physically or financially, of providing a service. Ultimately, this is what has been happening in recent years. The network has reached a point where we must say stop, and the only way this can be done is by providing appropriate funding to An Post to put it in a position to ring-fence the network as it is currently constituted and retain it from here on.
I have no doubt there are opportunities. There are opportunities within An Post in terms of the mix of services it can offer and there are opportunities for the State where it can deliver more services through the post offices. We owe it to all those involved in the operation of the network, urban and rural communities and the communities of people who will, ultimately, change the face of this country. We have all recognised there is a much greater demand for people who want to move from the cities into rural villages and smaller communities because they have seen the benefits attached to working remotely. I spoke to people in the Grow Remote campaign two years ago. While they thought it would be a slow build and would happen over five to ten years, if there is anything positive we can say has come out of the pandemic, and there is little, one element is that we now recognise we do not have to be in the office every day. People do not have to commute for two hours or at least not everybody has to commute for that length of time and take those kind of journeys. We can start to rebuild communities because of the advent of remote working, interfacing in an electronic environment and doing our business differently.
It will sustain our environment but we must sustain those economies and now is the time. As others have said, we can find money, as we have done in this pandemic, in massive quantums to meet a specific need. The Grant Thornton report identifies about €17 million. That may grow to some extent in the coming years but it is the right thing to do. It is the right investment in a social infrastructure to maintain communities in the way that so many people have outlined.
I appeal to the Minister of State as our conduit to Government on this issue to give very serious consideration to all the viewpoints she has heard across the House. I know the work she is doing will come to fruition soon. Is a public service obligation the only way to do it? It is my favoured option and I have made that clear on many occasions, but if the Minister of State can find another way to put in place the entirely necessary funding supports, I am prepared to accept that. I look forward to the Minister of State's deliberations and her return to this House when she has reached those conclusions.