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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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  10 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] The Department went as far as to change the application form for social welfare payments such that the first port of call was to ask recipients if they had bank accounts and then at which post offices they wished to receive their payments. This showed the attitude at the time. This is a simple although costly move for An Post which could save it money and help it to diversify into areas that could sustain it.

There are challenges facing An Post. As I said, my wife works for An Post delivering post or in the registration office sorting post, depending on what duty she is on in a particular week. As such, I have an understanding of this matter. I also have a brother-in-law who delivers post in Rathmines and a brother whose wife sorts post in the mail centre on the Nangor Road. I am well aware of the collapse in the volumes of mail in recent years. The workers have taken the hit resulting from that decline. In Dublin, delivery routes have been almost doubled at this stage, albeit those who deliver the post have less post to deliver but they have to go further. What they have found very interesting in the past number of months in particular is the huge increase in the number of parcels they have to deliver because people are buying online. This post is more bulky. I heard Deputy Eamon Ryan and other speakers state we were missing an opportunity in this regard. We are missing a huge opportunity because An Post sold off Ireland On Line, IOL, in 1999. Despite the fact that the latter had made a profit every year since it was purchased by An Post, which was two years after it was founded in 1992, An Post sold it to Esat Digifone at the encouragement of then Minister, Deputy Lowry. That is in the past, but it shows that decisions made then undermined the future viability of An Post, the consequences of which we are suffering. I believe it is now too late for An Post to start competing for Internet services, but it can make strategic links with the companies delivering these services.

Increasing the price of stamps, as is proposed in this legislation, in the absence of any other action, is pointless and could be severely damaging to the company. If this action was attached to a timetable for delivery of the recommendations outstanding from the Grant Thornton report and the Bobby Kerr report, I could understand it. While it is a first step it is only one step because we do not have a guarantee in terms of when the other changes which may help might come about. When I worked in Bord na Gaeilge, part of my job was to ensure the mail was franked every day and then delivered to the post office for sorting. As the cost of postage increased, an instruction was given by the board, which was a State company, to reduce postage expenditure by using courier services for the delivery of post in the city. People will be aware of the huge increase in the number of courier services in recent years. I am sure that as postage charges increase most small companies that are struggling will look again at whether they should continue to avail of the services of An Post to have their leaflets, fliers and so on delivered. This is one of the areas wherein there is still a lot of post. If there is an increase in the cost of postage for magazines, regular monthly newsletters - known in An Post as "flats" - calendars, Argos catalogues and so on, which we all receive in the post, the companies involved will weigh up whether it is worth doing business with the An Post. People will remember phone books. The decision to no longer deliver them resulted in a loss of business for An Post. As I said, a number of services will transfer to other providers. Some companies are already gearing up for competition with An Post in terms of delivery, including CityPOST. Thankfully, although regrettably for many people who did not get their parcels for Christmas, Parcel Motel has struggled to compete with the postal service. It is a pity people did not stick with the services provided by An Post. Had they done so, it might have put some extra money into the company's coffers.

As stated, I do not believe increasing postage charges will stem the dwindling mail loads. The most logical port of call would have been for the Minister to first bring the other alternatives before this House and, if they did not work, to then increase the postage charge. A post office in my own area closed before Christmas. I have heard what other Deputies had to say about the closure of rural post offices. The same is happening in many small villages in Dublin. It is the elderly people who cannot get a bus to the next nearest post office and who are obliged to walk to it who are struggling, although the advantage in Dublin is that the next nearest post office will be only a mile away in most cases. However, it is still very traumatic for people when their local postmaster or postmistress retires and somebody else gets the contract. There is no logic to this when it is economically viable for stores such as Centra to take on the service. Many of these stores are willing to take on the service, yet licences are being transferred to other post offices.

People will continue to write letters into the future, although, perhaps, on a less frequent basis. I recall that 20 years ago people were talking about the demise of the print media. Most people still prefer to read the newspapers or books in paper format. The same will apply in terms of cash. People will still want cash. There are many places in the world where one can purchase services via a mobile phone. An Post needs to get real, and very quickly, in terms of how society is changing. The Government must instruct An Post to fast-track its proposals around electronic funds transfer. Had it done so already, we would not be here taking the lazy option of increasing postage charges as a first measure.

I mentioned the timeframe for other measures. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, will tell us the status of the other proposals and indicate when they will be brought before us and when they will be implemented, or if there is any difficulty around their implementation. I am not as familiar with what is happening in this regard as are Deputies who attended the committee yesterday. Perhaps there are practical reasons why these recommendations cannot be implemented. I cannot understand why in this day and age we are allowing a company like An Post to struggle in the context of the opportunities available in this area.

The cap introduced in 2011 was supposed to encourage An Post to make efficiencies and diversify. It has obviously failed to do this because we are here again seeking to increase the price of stamps without having taken all of the other steps proposed.

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