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Post Office Closures (Continued)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 942 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] In that case, it is claimed that we cannot keep the service going, that it is costing the State too much, that it is valuable for rural Ireland but that it is too expensive and not competitive. The operative phrase is “not competitive” because we are running down social services for the sake of neo-liberal ideas that profit must be made and one must be competitive. It is not going to work without risking the fabric of rural life being torn apart, if that has not started already. The threat to An Post and the threat to Bus Éireann are one of the same threats to the fabric of rural society. It is also winding it up to send a signal to the workers in both Bus Éireann and An Post that they better not dare look for a pay increase the way the Luas or Dublin Bus drivers or other workers did, that there is a crisis and that they will not get any pay rise. Will the Minister of State comment on all of these points, in particular how this will destroy the fabric of rural life?

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Michael Ring): Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I want to be very clear and place on the record of the House the fact that I have no statutory responsibility for An Post or post offices. Overall responsibility for the postal services and for the governance of An Post lies with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, while operational matters and commercial decisions are a matter for An Post. I have no function whatsoever regarding post office closures. As a rural Deputy-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath On a point of order, why is the Minister of State here then? This is ridiculous.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív This is a joke. This is the best one ever. I have often seen Ministers coming in on behalf of other Ministers and apologising for them but I have never seen them disown them.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring Deputy Mattie McGrath is upset because it is an Independent Minister.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am not upset. I just want to find out who is responsible.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I am telling the Deputy who is responsible.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Why is he not here so?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív He is meant to come in. Where is he?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I will move on to the next Topical Issue if I do not get order in the House.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I want to put on the record of the Dáil what is factual.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State is not responsible, however.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I will move on to the next Topical Issue if the Minister of State is interrupted again.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Do we get the right to come back?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Yes.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Then let us hear what the Minister of State has to say.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath We can come back but the post offices cannot come back.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Does the Deputy want to push it and see me move on to the next Topical Issue?

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring As a rural Deputy, I know first-hand just how important the post office is to rural Ireland. I recognise that post offices play a significantly valuable economic and social role in rural, as well as urban, areas. At the same time, we must accept the reality that the postal sector is undergoing fundamental change both at home and internationally. People are increasingly using e-mail and social media to communicate, rather than using traditional postal services. Businesses, too, are increasingly providing services online. As a result, core mail volumes have decreased year on year. This is not just an Irish trend but a global one.

The chief executive officer of An Post said today there has been a decline of nearly 50% in mail services globally. An Post is currently carrying out a comprehensive review of the company, led by McKinsey consultants with a view to developing a long-term strategic approach to the business. Much media coverage has been given this week to the post office network and references to a report completed by Mr. Bobby Kerr. Mr. Kerr’s report was carried out for An Post, not for the Government. Mr. Kerr submitted his recommendations to An Post in December. At this point, I call on An Post to publish Mr. Kerr’s report, given that much of what it contains is already in the public domain. An Post should also clarify how Mr. Kerr’s report will feed into the wider decision-making process once the McKinsey process has concluded.

It is important to put on the record that the post office network is not owned by the State. An Post is a commercial State body. As of the end of February, there were 1,121 post offices nationwide, 50 of which are operated directly by An Post, with the rest being run under contract to An Post by postmasters and postmistresses. Decisions about the post office network and whether there are to be any closures are matters for the board and management of An Post.

That said, the Government is committed to working with stakeholders to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the post office network in the changed environment in which it operates. While I have no statutory responsibility for An Post, as I have said already, I have been working with the various stakeholders to ensure the commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government for the post office network are delivered. As a rural Deputy, I believe post offices should be encouraged to play an increased role in the provision of services in rural areas and generate new economic activity that can support the revitalisation of rural Ireland.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív That was the most extraordinary performance ever by a Minister of State. There was an arrangement made-----

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring I learned from the Deputy a lot.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I delivered on the ground. The Minister of State knows that and he admitted it to me many times.

The Minister of State claims he has no responsibility for An Post but gives us no explanation regarding where the Minister is. Under Standing Orders, the Minister responsible is meant to take Topical Issues.

I am realistic enough to know there is migration away from postal services and we all use the Internet more. However, there are plenty of other services which can be put into the post offices. The Government has been talking about this for six years but nothing, tada, rud ar bith has happened. That is our question. Is the Government going to let these post offices wither on the vine and disappear or realise it has ultimate responsibility for them?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I know we are a week into the Lent but what the Minister of State is doing, blaming the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, is the greatest Pontius Pilate act I have ever witnessed. I had to deal with all the Departments involved and they dealt with our recent motion on this.

We got the report from An Post. What does it do this week? It puts up the price of a stamp by 35% when sales of stamps are dropping. Any other company which did that would be out of business in a week. This is heads in the sand stuff.

Last week, the Minister of State announced another sham consultation about public banking. Our motion sought to allow the post office network become involved in community banking. The Minister of State is having a consultation period on this but the network will be imithe – gone - like the snow off the ditch. The Minister of State is passing the parcel to the other Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. It is he who should be here dealing with this, instead of the Minister of State hand-wringing, doing a Pontius Pilate job and passing the buck. The post office network is disappearing before our eyes while the bus services and Garda stations are gone. There will be nothing left in rural Ireland, only the hen harriers, along with the weeds and the ditches the Government will not let us cut.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris Several weeks ago, Sinn Féin put down a vote of no confidence in the Government. Today’s report from the Minister shows how right we were. This is a Government which has no responsibility for the workings of a network which has served this country for decades. Rural Ireland is in irreversible decline because this and successive Governments have neglected to look after it. They have treated its citizens as second class. Even today, when Ulster Bank will supposedly close 30 of its 120 branches, rural post offices will be left with skeleton staff and another 500 to go because they are considered unsustainable. The Government treats rural Ireland as unsustainable. Rural Ireland is sustainable if it gets the support necessary from the Government and its agencies.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I honestly do not blame the Minister of State for being annoyed and shouting and roaring that he is not responsible.


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