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Cork Mail Centre: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath] It would be a deeply retrograde step by the company if it were to let this happen. Many of the assertions that have been made by An Post are disputed by people working at the front line. An Post says that the Cork mail centre is operating at below 25% capacity. In comments made by spokespersons on behalf of the company, the impression has been given - many employees take umbrage at this - that it is underperforming. That really is not fair or accurate. Consistently, it has been one of the two best performers among An Post mail centres over that period. As some of the staff have said to me, they have the posters on the wall stating this and they have a trophy in the cabinet confirming that they have been the most efficient and best performing mail centre. As Deputy Micheál Martin has said, it is the most modern and best equipped of the mail centres. This decision needs to be reviewed.

The Minister's Cabinet colleague, the Minster for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, welcomed the decision, of course, and said he had been working closely with An Post over the last 12 months. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has said there was no political involvement whatsoever in this decision. Is the Minister for Justice and Equality claiming credit for something in which he had no involvement? It cannot be both ways; something does not add up. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, needs to become involved and make his views known on this. It is not adequate for him just to wash his hands. There is a report from Accenture to which Deputy Micheál Martin has referred which should be published and put into the public domain. Much of what has been said by the company so far is not accurate and does not stand up to independent scrutiny. These workers feel they have been thrown under the bus. In my view, Cork has been shafted in respect of this issue. It is not fair or right and the Minister should become involved to bring about a reversal of the decision.

Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: Information on Aindrias Moynihan Zoom on Aindrias Moynihan I acknowledge Deputy Barry for bringing forward this motion, which is very much needed. The announcement of 240 job losses at the Cork mail centre is a serious blow for all the staff and their families. It is a retrograde step. Shutting down a state-of-the-art centre is a strategic mistake. The staff involved are devastated, as are their families. They are facing redundancy, which is very unfair on them. Every effort should be made to meet their needs. We see the great work they are doing night after night so that post can be delivered in the morning. There is another group, in addition to the 240, who are also at a loss. They are the seasonal workers, many of them students, who come in during the run-up to Christmas for those very busy weeks. They too will lose out. This centre, which opened in 2003, was the most modern in the country. Its closure is announced against the background of Cork being expected to grow dramatically and its population to double in size over the next decades. We see also the way in which parcel post is continuing to increase steadily, up some 40% last year. An Post is in far better financial health, with mail and parcel revenue up €38 million in 2018. Last November, we saw a 60% increase in the number of parcels it delivered compared with previous years.

The Minister referred to having a strong exit package. Having spoken to a number of the staff, I ask the Minister for clarification. I understand that while the severance package offers six weeks' pay per year worked for many people, up to a maximum of two years' pay, those over the age of 60 appear to be in a far less favourable position, as they will receive a maximum of six months' pay when they retire. These are people who are on the D stamp PRSI or the older An Post contracts. Will they have to wait for retirement? Can the Minister clarify whether they have less favourable conditions?

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony I support the motion and thank Deputy Barry for bringing it forward. There are some technical issues but the sentiment and outline of the solutions proposed are the correct ones. The announcement of 240 job losses at the Cork mail centre is very disappointing for the workers involved and their families. Some of these people live in my constituency of Cork South-West and some live in that of my colleague, Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe, who is unable to be here this evening but shares our concern. While I wish those working in the other mail centres in Dublin, Athlone and Portlaoise well, it is ironic that the newest and most modern of the four centres was the one that had to lose out. I said last week that the decision of An Post to close its Little Island mail centre is further evidence of the erosion of services outside of Dublin and the east coast. The closure of 12 post offices in the greater Cork area in 2018 was bad enough and now we have this. Two post offices in my own constituency closed, despite a public meeting at which a local Minister of State gave assurances that everything would be done to avoid these closures. I have first-hand experience of the importance of the local post office network, having worked in An Post for many years. In the absence of other amenities such as Garda stations, pubs and general practitioner services, I understand the reliance on the post office for both economic and social well-being, not to mention the efforts of post office staff in the community. The failure of An Post and the Government to offer replacement contracts as opposed to redundancy packages has made the situation worse. It will inevitably lead to the closure of further post offices in County Cork and further decimate rural west Cork.

It was only yesterday that we spoke here about mental health issues. It is undeniable that all matters pertaining to rural Ireland are linked. The closure of rural services will lead to further rural isolation and hence create more pressures on mental health services. That is just one indirect consequence. The blame game cannot continue to play out here. The closing of this mail centre is fundamentally wrong and I ask the Minister to re-examine it. Given that this facility is the newest of the four mail centres in the country, the decision to close it is counterproductive notwithstanding any savings that may be envisaged. I am calling on the Minister to take a stand, undertake meaningful dialogue with An Post and put provisions in place to save this mail centre, the jobs affected and what remains of rural Ireland.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Laoghaire, Buckley and Jonathan O'Brien. I welcome the motion from Solidarity-PBP in respect of the mail centre. I also welcome the fact that the Deputies proposing it will accept Sinn Féin's amendment. Here we are again discussing the closure of another piece of a vital network in terms of the postal services. A number of times, we have heard Ministers tell us in the House that the Government is committed to protecting the postal services. However, over 200 workers in Cork are being forced into redundancy with great losses to the community and the city of Cork. Despite all the talk, the decision has been made. Is the Minister going to stand idly by while the post office network is being run down? This is a blow for regional development. If any one of the four centres is closed, it will be a blow for whichever region is losing it. I find what has happened with the post office network over the past decade very disheartening. Between 2000 and 2010, we saw 732 post offices close their front doors. This is a direct contradiction of what Government policy should be. The process has continued and has done terrible damage. We do not view the post office network as a burden. We see it as key infrastructure that is vital to the economy. We want to see the establishment of a long-term vision for our network.

It is true that mail volumes are falling but we have known that for a long time.

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