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Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016

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Second Stage

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Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016\Second Stage
Bills\Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016\Second Stage

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Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016

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Deputy Mattie McGrath

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Mattie McGrath

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Snippet Contents:

I am pleased to speak to the Bill. First, I convey my good wishes to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. I wish him a speedy recovery. It was an awful trauma for himself and his wife, but I believe he is making a good recovery. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, will pass on my good wishes.
I am appalled by this situation because in the negotiations on a programme for Government, 90% of which were attended by the Minister of State, rural post offices were a big issue. The rural Independent group, including Deputies Michael Collins, Noel Grealish, Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae, prioritised this issue because it is a very important one. What is the point in having a programme for Government if the Department is just going to decide unilaterally to increase the price of stamps drastically? It is easy to tell that there are not many business people on the Government side of the House. The proposal is to increase the price of a stamp from 72 cent to 95 cent or €1, which is an increase of almost 40%. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, no business could sustain this. That is not good planning or good management. It is just a knee-jerk reaction.
The Kerr report on the rural post office network was published several years ago and there have been a number of other reports. As a previous speaker said, we had crocodile tears from the Labour Party and others in government in recent years. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, myself and others brought letters into this House that people received from the Department of Social Protection encouraging them to provide the Department with their bank details. The Department was actively taking away business from the post offices. I have to declare an interest because my sister is a postmistress. I have not spoken to her about the Bill before us but I know the social value of every postmistress and postmaster in the small rural post offices. They have given sterling service over the years. Rural posts offices have acted as community alert centres, interpretative centres and tourist offices. Postmasters and postmistresses would notice when a person did not turn up to collect his or her pension. Many times people who had collapsed in their homes were saved because the postmistress or postmaster noticed they had not turned up on Wednesday or Friday to collect their pension and raised the alarm. Post offices provide connectivity.
Recently the rural Independent group introduced a Private Member's Bill in the House. We put a lot of work into it. We had to find out who was the Minister with responsibility. That was the biggest difficulty. We thought it was the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment but then found out that it was the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Michael Ring. We put an enormous amount of work into getting the Bill ready and received agreement from the Government that it would accept it. Members from all sides of the House spoke on the Bill, but where is it now? The Government has come up with this drastic action and our Bill is null and void. This House is reduced to a talking shop again. We need to see where the problem lies.
The Minister of State referred to various aspects of this issue. He said that the trend in An Post has been evident for some years but that it accelerated in 2016 with the company experiencing a doubling of the year-on-year decline in postal volumes, resulting in a serious financial impact. The Government's answer to this is to increase the price of stamps by 30% to 40%. Children in kindergarten or first class would not do that. As Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, if he did that in his business he would close within a week. I am in business and I, too, would close in a week. No business could sustain it.
The Minister of State has pointed out that the mail business still accounts for almost two thirds of An Post's revenue and represents 78% of the company's payroll. That is fine and I salute the workers who do a good job. The Minister of State went on to say the company was entering a period of significant change to try to cope with the rapidly changing environment in which it operated.