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Snippet Contents:

The news from the reports and various interest groups that we have spoken to is clear. There are solid options for the post office network to diversify its business model and to move to a more sustainable footing. Our post offices are ready to make the changes necessary to ensure their survival. Communities around the country are depending on us to make sure that it is allowed to do so and is supported in doing so, yet the Government is still dragging its heels and making it ever more difficult to take the type of action we need to save the post office network. It is nothing short of abhorrent.
To sum it up, while I heartily welcome this first sign of progress on the issue, I ask all Members of the House to avoid complacency. Further action is needed to preserve our post office network and ensure its survival, particularly in rural communities. Fianna Fáil will not stand by as one of the few remaining community centres in many areas is placed under unbearable financial stress. We will not ignore the concerns of postmasters and rural residents who feel completely abandoned by the policies and actions of the Government. Instead, we will be consistently searching for new and more comprehensive solutions to the issue of financial losses and we will co-operate with all interest groups to help post offices put these solutions into effect. I hope that we will be joined in addressing this issue by all who sit in the Chamber today.
The Minister will be aware that yesterday evening the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment had what I can only describe as a very open and frank discussion with all the stakeholders. I was impressed by the presentation of the chief executive of An Post, Mr. David McRedmond. He has a clear vision on how to turn around An Post as a company. That he has undertaken a period of consultation and the preparation of a report with the assistance of McKinsey and Company is a welcome development. That he has set a timeframe for the publication of the report by the end of the second quarter of this year is also welcome. He is putting in place the kind of timelines that, unfortunately, the Government has not put in place in respect of the issue. He indicated to the committee that the output from the exercise will be a series of decisions that will have to be taken by the board of the company. If anything emanates from it that requires policy change or legislation, that responsibility will lie with the Government. It is clear that he has a focused approached and that we are now on a path towards a series of decisions that need to be taken to put An Post on a firm financial footing.
Given McKinsey and Company's experience of working with other postal companies around the world, I hope that there will be a recognition of the opportunities as well as the constraints in the market. There is an awful lot of talk about the diminishing and dwindling postal service because of the way in which we now communicate, which is by electronic means. However, with the advent of electronic communication and the way in which retail activity has changed, an awful lot more of our citizens are purchasing goods, in particular, and services over the Internet. This has created an increased demand on the parcel side of the postal business. Unfortunately, An Post has been tardy in recognising the potential benefit and some of the commercial operators have stolen a march on it. My impression from Mr. McRedmond is that An Post sees the opportunity. Given its strong presence and significant infrastructure and architecture throughout the country, I would hope that it would be in a strong position to grab hold of that business and to make it a meaningful input into the viability and preservation of the company and ensuring the future viability of the post office network.
I have very real concerns but, given the financial position presented by the Minister, we feel we have no choice but to support the price increase to ensure the financial viability of the company in the period before the McKinsey report and the decisions that will flow from it to put the company on a firm footing can be put in place. It is to some extent with a heavy heart that we support a price recognition. We recognise that there is an impact on small to medium-sized enterprises when the price of the stamp is increased. It will be just a matter of switching to electronic communication for larger companies that have great enough volumes and they will probably save money in the long run. However, this will place a burden on those small to medium-sized companies that are caught in the middle. They do not have the capital to invest in electronic communication means and will have to pay the additional postal charges. This will place a burden on them and it more difficult for them to survive.
In taking this action and supporting the legislation, we recognise the positive impact it can have on An Post, the post office network and those who are employed in the provision of the service, but by no means is it a recognition that this is the way forward or the solution to An Post's problems. We need to see a reorientation and reconfiguration of the business that is based around the vision for the future and how the company will position itself having recognised the trends. It cannot be a head in the sand approach. It cannot be just a case of saying this is the solution, away we go and more of the same. We cannot do that because it would not be sustainable in the long term. That is our position. We support the removal of the cap and are happy to do so in light of the circumstances but recognise that the ultimate solution needs to flow from the McKinsey report, the efforts of Mr. McRedmond and his management team and the board of An Post. I would hazard a guess that the Fianna Fáil Party will not be found wanting in supporting the kind of change that is necessary to put the company on a viable footing. It is then over to the Government to drive that change when the report is published.