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Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016

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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 Catherine Murphy

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Snippet Contents:

It is important to put the history of the postal service in context because it is a survivor and in 2000 celebrated its tercentenary. There has been a postal service since 1700 which has been capable of change over the centuries. Mail has been delivered by stagecoach, the railway system which played a big part and mechanised vehicles and we are now going through another period of change in which technology is playing a part. We know that email, text messages and other electronic means are now the preferred way to engage in speedy communication. However, notwithstanding any technological advancement, there will always be a pivotal place for traditional postal services for business and personal use. Many online retailers to the forefront of technological advancement are dependent on traditional postal services to deliver goods to their customers. The postal service has been capable of change and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so, but it does require support and to do things differently.
The Bill seeks to remove the price cap mechanism and provides for ComReg to undertake a review of the consequences of removing the price cap. However, the review is not be due to commence until two years after the Bill has passed. In the meantime, it has already been indicated that the purpose of removing the cap is to allow price hikes to generate cashflow for An Post. An immediate increase in the price of postal services will add to the already exorbitant cost of living and doing business in Ireland, something that should not be taken lightly. An Post and the post office network nationwide are in danger. We know from various representations made by post offices and postmasters that they feel vulnerable and the reduction in the amount of State services administered through the post office network is of particular concern and threatens the survival of many. There is plenty of evidence and we all see it when people show us a letter from the Department of Social Protection in which it is presumed they have bank accounts and they are pushed towards receiving payments through them rather than at the post office. We are also aware that services such as bill payment and that stamps and gift cards can be obtained in shops other than post offices. I am aware that in 2014 ten supermarkets were part of a trial. I do not know the results, but according to An Post services followed the footfall. What those running post offices tell us is that this drives away footfall they would otherwise have and that people would engage in other transactions if they went to the post office. It is not just about buying a stamp conveniently; it is something of importance.
A lot of the conversation has focused on the rural post office network. Of course, post offices in rural Ireland are vitally important, but post offices in urban areas are just as important. We have seen the withdrawal of banking services in communities with an older population and in which there is less demand for banking services, as well as in poorer communities. It is not exclusively a rural issue, but having said that, I accept that it is more dominant in rural areas. There is also the social aspect of people going to the post office to collect their pension and someone knows if they have not turned up. This is a valuable role; it is not a tangible return, but it is the reality. With this in mind, long term we need to look at solutions to the threats facing the post office network and how we can best support it and acknowledge its vital place in Irish public life. A price hike now is a short-term fix which may do further long-term damage to the sector. Either way, the answer to the ills of the post office does not lie in isolation. Price hikes can and will be counter-productive. We must, therefore, look at ways in which we can realistically increase the functionality of post offices to bring them up to date, while also giving us an opportunity to use the network to deliver services to communities, with far-reaching benefits to society.