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Post Office Network (Continued)

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 961 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten] Overall activity levels are down by 15% since 2013 and annual payments to some post offices have reduced by up to 20%. These reductions mean that the income model is becoming unsustainable, especially for postmasters operating smaller post offices.

I am extremely conscious of the value placed on local post offices in towns and villages across the country. While it is accepted that, in light of the ongoing decline in activity, the network must be renewed, it is also important that this is done in a controlled and transparent manner. Changes to the footprint of the post offices network, where they occur, should be a consequence of the modernisation process as opposed to its objective. In this regard, a protocol will be put in place to manage the modernisation of the network and the impact of postmaster exits on the local community. It is expected that this protocol would have regard to existing contract arrangements and become a blueprint for decisions on the future of the network, including the opening of new post offices as well as managing the future of a post office where a postmaster decides to take a redundancy package or otherwise to exit the business.

The protocol must also make provision to ensure that the existing business is effectively transferred in order to support the remaining network and local businesses and should take account of recommendations made by Mr. Bobby Kerr in his report. This protocol will be agreed between An Post and the IPU and these negotiations will be supported by an external facilitator.

An Post is entering into a period of significant change but this change is critical to ensuring the long-term success of our national postal operator and a sustainable post office network. Doing nothing is simply not an option. To the credit of the board, management and employees of An Post, the strategic plan sets out a positive vision for the company, positions it for the digital age and aims to put the company in a position where it can support sustainable jobs in both its mail business and post office network right across the country.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I will allow Deputy Stanley to come in for a minute and then Deputy Dooley to conclude.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I do not think the Chairman can do that during priority questions.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The questions are grouped. I call Deputy Stanley.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I do not think the Chairman can group them.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I can. I call Deputy Stanley. Unfortunately, it is only for concluding remarks. He has one minute.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Hold on now a second.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell You were not here, Deputy. I am sorry.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I have a priority question.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Yes, but you were not here.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I do not think you can group priority questions.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley No.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Through the Chair and on a point of order, to save the Deputy, I will just protect my corner first and then let him protect his. My understanding is that a priority question cannot be grouped. We are entitled to our time. If the Deputy has a similar question he is entitled to pursue it with the Minister. I have been around the House a while and I may be wrong on this, which is why I seek the clarification, but my understanding is that, when it comes to oral questions, a priority question is just that: it is a one-to-one between the Deputy and the Minister. The same applies to the next Deputy. Groupings, as I have always understood it-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The Deputy has made his point. Thank you.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley The normal thing would be for Deputy Dooley's question to be taken first. I am here for the second question. My question was listed and no issue was raised about it. With respect to the Chair, all I am expecting is that I get equal opportunity.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Unfortunately, Deputy, while I do not disagree with what Deputy Dooley has just said about priority questions, the fact remains that the questions are grouped. The Deputy was not here at the commencement of priority questions.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I was here before he finished.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The Deputy was not here at the commencement of the business.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am not accepting that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell That is fine. I call Deputy Dooley to conclude.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am not accepting that. My question-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Deputy, it is not a matter for you to accept.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Mine is the second question.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The decision has been made. You can have a minute to respond to the Minister's response or you can take your seat and Deputy Dooley can conclude.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley To be fair, having put in a priority question, I am allowed one minute-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Let me clarify Standing Orders for the Deputy.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Can I clarify something with you?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Standing Orders allows six and a half minutes for the questions. The six and a half minutes have concluded. In fact, they concluded two and a half minutes ago.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley And there is six and a half minutes for my question.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell No, Deputy. The question was grouped.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley It is a separate question.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell A decision has been made and we have moved on from that decision.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am sorry but it is a completely separate question. This is very unfair.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I note Deputy Dooley's remark, and I do not believe he is incorrect, but the point is that we have already done it.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Can I propose a suspension of the House until we examine the facts?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell It has been done before while I have been in the chair and while the Ceann Comhairle has been in the chair. I was present for it.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley This is very simple. Questions are listed for priority.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I am giving the Deputy an opportunity to address his question.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley We wait for five or six weeks to have them addressed. All I am asking for is my minute, a minute for the Minister to respond and a minute for me to come back in.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell In fairness, Deputy, the Minister has given his entire response, which was two pages long.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley That is not how I have seen it working here. The Chairman is deviating from the practice of the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I am not deviating from practice.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley You are. I have been here when questions were grouped.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The Deputy is wasting the time of the House.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley All I am asking for is one minute to raise the question with the Minister and a minute for the Minister to respond. Two minutes is all I am asking for. It is very simple.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I will give the Deputy the minute-----

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I am trying to be fair.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell -----and I will ask the Minister to make a brief response.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley A quick response.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell If Deputy Stanley would like to take his minute, Deputy Dooley has a right to his minute after Deputy Stanley.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Will I get my final round as well?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Then the Minister may make a final response.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley And I will get a minute to come back in.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell No. That will be the Deputy's concluding remark.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Okay. The clock shows 55 seconds now.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Yes, but we will give the Deputy the minute. We will not argue over five seconds.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley My question relates to the changes in An Post and the expansion of services. As the Minister said, doing nothing is not an option. We totally agree with him on that. It is not an option. We believe that it has to be sorted. We have put forward a number of proposals. The Kerr report and the McKinsey report are sitting there. I note that the Minister announced a €30 million loan today. Will the Minister outline exactly how it can be utilised? I am not convinced I see an urgency with regard to putting in new services. The Minister said he wanted to see it become an interface with Government, which is to be welcomed. There are other areas that it could get into, particularly banking-----

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Yes.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley -----and linking in with the credit union where there has been a successful pilot scheme. However, we need to see that action ramped up in the coming weeks. I have told the Minister many times in this Chamber that we do not have time on our side when it comes to the post office network. We need to see improvements. If the services are not expanded, the reality is that many smaller post offices will be lost. We need to see action and the services expanded and a clear plan put in place, but I do not see that. What I see is the McKinsey and Kerr reports left hanging in midair. Today the Minister announced a €30 million loan to the company but I would have preferred to see the plan first and then the €30 million going into it. That is what we need to see. I am concerned about the post offices in the midlands and in County Laois which will close if further services are not put into them.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Thank you, Deputy. I call Deputy Dooley to make his concluding remarks.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Will the Minister be straight with the House? I am not suggesting that the Minister is not normally but I think he could on this occasion. He speaks about the money and what it will do. There is a series of events that will have to take place, and the provision of ten digital gateways on a pilot basis will not use up €30 million. The Minister should come clean and talk about the cost reduction that will assist An Post into the future. He should explain what cost reduction really means, which is redundancies. This is not about improving services or coming up with innovative ways of driving people into post offices. A financial slide rule is being placed across the books of An Post and this is about eliminating people, cutting jobs and reducing access to the services of the post office. It is about making the organisation leaner and fitter to continue doing what it is doing but in fewer areas. We get the continuation of the five day universal obligation on the postal side. That is a given. There is nothing in this for people who depend on post offices in rural areas. It is quite the contrary, notwithstanding the glossy language on the periphery of the kernel of this.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten This is about expanding the number of people who will utilise and depend on the post office in rural areas. Since David McRedmond became chief executive, we have already seen the expansion of the parcel service. We now have a service in Ahascragh and Elphin that is equivalent to what is available in Amsterdam or Edinburgh. A van travels six days a week to homes throughout this country delivering parcels and taking back returns. This provides huge opportunity, particularly for local businesses. In the new year, the company will launch a new initiative called eLocal.ie. Initially it will be a pilot in Mullingar, Ennis and Bantry. It will examine how those provincial towns can service the local community with an overnight delivery service using the An Post vans to do it.


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