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Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 935 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan] That automatically has a negative impact on the requirement for services such as those provided by An Post. If we continue along those lines and build new replacements in new urbanised settings where population is concentrated, there will be no need for An Post or any rural services.

Other Members referred to driver licences. I would have thought it was an issue that should have been seized upon by An Post when the time came but that did not happen. It was a mistake and something that could have brought An Post back into the scene.

As long as older people are living in rural Ireland, quite a number of whom live in isolated places, there will be a need for a focal point where they can go to dispatch their utility bills. Such a service is in place but if post offices disappear, the service will not be available. There is a necessity to ensure we continue to maintain post offices throughout urban and rural Ireland.

Those who say it cannot be done should note it can be done, but we must be imaginative and think of the extra services that can be bolted on to An Post and which it could undertake to enhance, expand and extend the quality, content and value of the services it currently provides. This has had to be done in many other countries and continues to be the case. There is no end to the amount of innovation we can call upon to do the best we can in this area. They are a number of the options one can readily identify which need to be examined.

I compliment the Minister of State on introducing the Bill because it had to be done. While I understand what Members have said about the increase in the price of stamps dissuading people from using services, I am not sure that is the case. We have one of the cheapest postal systems in Europe in terms of stamps. It should not necessarily be that way and we have to have some recognition that we need to pay for some of things we enjoy. There is no use saying that we want everything for free and blaming somebody else when things do not happen that way. We should not expect things to happen that way.

If we are realistic and accept we must do something and that An Post has within its current structure all of the means to deal with the situation and deliver an expanded, effective and efficient service throughout the entire country, we are on the right track. I hope this intervention has an impact on the operation of An Post. If it does not, and that becomes obvious after a short period of time, we should return to the coalface and do something before it becomes too late. The worst thing that could happen would be that nothing would be done and the system be allowed to wither on the vine. In that case, the post office network would become obsolete, which would be a tragic thing to happen. I am quite sure that private enterprises facing such a situation would find various means to replace services.

I extend my good wishes to the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and hope he will be back in the House soon. I hope he is fit and well and able to take up his duties once again. I also hope that, as a result of ensuring that the Bill is brought before the House at this time, it has the desired and necessary effect in terms of addressing the obvious issues relating to An Post.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I wish to share time with Deputy Casey and others.

I join Deputy Durkan, the Minister of State and others in wishing my constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, a very speedy recovery. I have been in contact with him by text and he has been in contact with me. He appreciates all the good wishes and is making a slow recovery. It was quite a frightening experience for him and his wife. We all wish him well. Táim cinnte go mbeidh Denis ar ais sa Teach seo i gceann cúpla seachtain. That is what we all hope.

While this debate is one we probably would prefer not to have, it is necessary. It is necessary for those of us on the side of the House to support the Government, albeit reluctantly, because nobody wants charges to increase. We have to consider the consequences of what may happen if we do not.

The Bill is very much a stopgap move. Every Member of the House, in particular those who have spoken against what is being proposed, needs to realise the consequences of what we could face within a couple of months if we do not make the tough decisions that have been proposed regarding increasing charges.

The post office service could collapse. What would that mean? It would mean a number of post offices would close and workers would lose their jobs. It would probably mean that there would be a reduced postal service. We are very fond of having our post delivered every day but if An Post runs into a deeper financial crisis, there is every possibility that we would have a very much reduced service. It may not be the most popular thing to do, but the reality is that it is a necessary move at this stage.

This crisis has built up over a number of years. During every debate on the closure of a post office, I emphasised the importance of technology. We cannot and do not want to stop technology but the reality of what has happened to the post office service is, in many respects, a case of technology taking over.

Before Christmas I asked the Taoiseach about the state of the postal service. I expressed concern at the time and asked whether the Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, or the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, had responsibility in this area. One Minister should have such responsibility. I also said that unless something was urgently done, the service could collapse and that would be serious for many parts of the country.

I conducted a survey of a class of about 78 students from a local secondary school. I found out that only one out of the 78 students use the post office. All of the younger generation use technology. They are not posting letters; everything is done electronically. That is the reality. We should have seen this coming many years ago and built up new services in post offices. There was no way that every rural post office would maintain a service. The reality was that some would close. We could now face a very difficult situation whereby many more would close because of what has arisen.

The sorting of post, which took place at county depots, has been regionalised, which was the wrong move. Many people in business tell me that the postal service is no longer as efficient. Was that a bad move? In addition, there was a deliberate policy of trying to take people away from dealing with social welfare payments in post offices. The policy may not have been trumpeted but nothing encouraged people to continue to conduct their social welfare business in post offices. The banks became involved, which was a pity.

We need to ensure that in towns where banks have closed and no credit union is available, post offices are maintained and allowed to provide banking services. It is really important for such towns that banking services are kept in place.

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