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 Header Item Flood Prevention Measures (Continued)
 Header Item Post Office Network

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] The OPW only deals with channels on which work has started and it does not take on new channels. Areas at high risk of flooding, of which there are many, are being left to their own devices and that is unacceptable.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I acknowledge the issues raised by the Deputy and I will ensure the Minister and the Department are made aware of them. The Government has responded quickly to recent weather events. A total of €25 million has been available to flooding victims and it will be administered by the Department of Social Protection to deal with the immediate, significant and serious causes of hardship and discomfort and relocation to temporary accommodation as well as to address any other humanitarian circumstances arising, including the provision of food and clothing. This was followed by the announcement of a fund of up to €70 million for a programme of repair and remediation to help communities in the worst affected areas to provide for the restoration of roads, coastal protection infrastructure, piers, harbours and other infrastructure and amenities. The provision of these moneys is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to respond to the needs of communities devastated by the storms, which the Deputy has articulated.

Certain types of development work are also governed by a number of EU directives, which are required to protect habitats and ecosystems. Some of our rivers and streams are particularly sensitive in this regard and they lie within sites that have been selected for designation as SACs or SPAs. It is necessary to apply other controls to in stream work in addition than those that apply to water courses generally. As the Deputy correctly pointed out, this involves a broad range of complex and interrelated issues with flooding and the removal of solid material requiring the interaction of a number of State bodies, all of which have a role to play in developing approaches to ensure they can be effectively dealt with. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, is active in this regard and I will also bring the Deputy's comments to his attention following the debate.

Post Office Network

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topic, which concerns Barnaderg post office in my constituency. Post offices are important, particularly in rural communities. Public houses are not as plentiful as they used to be and the ability to create jobs and build businesses in these areas is not what it was. In many cases, the post office is the only point of contact many people in these communities have during the week as they avail of its services. The postmaster in Barnaderg passed away after Christmas and An Post decided to review the post office. This raises a number of concerns, as there is a need for a post office in the area.

Last year, the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications produced a report on the post office network and the third recommendation states: "The committee recommends that An Post clarify and make public the criteria they used to establish the viability of a post office." That has not happened in this case. A number of weeks ago the community in Barnaderg was informed via a note on the post office window that it could be closed following a consultation period. The joint committee also recommended that: "In addition, An Post should introduce an amber light warning system, which gives communities advance warning that their post office may be vulnerable to closure. The aim of this is to allow communities to put in place a business plan which might avert this eventuality." However, the problem with that is if the community is not informed by the company about what it is looking for and what makes a successful post office and the products that should be offered, it is difficult for those involved. The community has had this post office for years but it now has to come up with a business plan within two weeks to establish the need for it.

I call on the Minister and An Post to implement the joint committee's recommendations for all post offices. In addition, I understand the consultation period for Barnaderg post office closes tomorrow. That is too soon. It is possible that the post office may be retained in some form but I am seeking the retention of full postal services, which the community has been used to for many years. A watering down of services will not be acceptable. An Post needs to take that into consideration before a decision is made. This is a viable post office. A member of the late postmaster's family is willing to take over immediately and there will be no break in service. I do not understand why An Post cannot give this person at least 12 months to provide the service. If the company could not find anyone to take on a viable business, that would be a different scenario. It is unacceptable that it should take such a heavy-handed approach in this case where a family member is prepared to maintain the business. The people of Barnaderg seek the retention of full post services and I would like the Minister of State to use his good offices to make sure that happens.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I assure him that his comments will be brought to his attention directly. An Post is committed to a strong and viable post office network and supports the maintenance of the maximum number of economically viable post offices. The commercial operation of An Post's post office network is a matter for the board and management of the company and not one in which the Minister has a direct statutory function.

The postmaster in Barnaderg passed away in January and I offer my condolences to the family. An Post has given a temporary contract to the daughter of the deceased postmaster to maintain continuity of service to the community of Barnaderg while the future of the post office is assessed. In circumstances such as this, it is standard procedure for An Post to review the future need for a post office and to hold a public consultation. In accordance with its normal practice, a customer notice regarding the review was placed in the post office last month. This notice advised that An Post was considering the future service provision needs at Barnaderg, which could include closure of the office.

However, before taking a decision, interested parties who wished to do so were given three weeks to submit their views on the matter to the company no later than this Friday, 14 February. An Post has advised the Department that three weeks is the standard period for response to its consultation process and in its experience this duration has proved to be more than satisfactory. I also understand that An Post will meet a local community delegation tomorrow and this will form part of the consultation process. In coming to its decision, An Post will take account of network coverage needs; the level of business at the office; customer access to service elsewhere, for example, travel distances, etc; and capacity of neighbouring offices to handle business if the office closes.

Following consideration of all the views received as a result of the consultation process, An Post will then proceed to take a decision on the future of Barnaderg post office. I fully understand the concerns of the Deputy about its future and the importance of the post office to the local community. However, An Post is currently facing many challenges not just financially, but also from the development of communications technologies and the impact of e-substitution. Any decisions it may take must be considered in the context of maintaining a sustainable post office network.

As a shareholder, the Minister has strong concerns regarding the ongoing commercial position of the company. The reality is that the core mail business has suffered a major fall in recent years and this has impacted seriously on the company's revenue. An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. The Minister has impressed on the company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard and he has been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins.

The Government recognises the strategic importance of the postal sector. It has been long-standing policy that An Post remains in a position to compete in a liberalised market and to continue providing wide-ranging services to both urban and rural communities.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The consultation process with the community is under way but I am concerned that a short period was provided for the process in this case, given a temporary licence was granted for the post office a few weeks ago. This has not allowed for proper consultation to take place. Barnaderg is a diverse community and the people have to come up with a business plan. They do not have experience in this regard. The Minister of State outlined the criteria that need to be considered by An Post, including network coverage needs; the level of business at the office; customer access to service elsewhere, for example, travel distances, etc; and capacity of neighbouring offices to handle business if the office closes. These headings should have been relayed to the community from day one in order that people could prove the post office is viable.

While I acknowledge the banking sector is shrinking, in many rural areas, the banks are closing their branches in small rural towns.


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