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Post Office Network

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 975 No. 2

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Post Office Network

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher At the outset, and with no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, I am very disappointed that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, could not present himself to this House tonight. He normally takes pride in the fact that he always takes his own Topical Issue matters but there may be a genuine excuse. Had I known that, I would have requested this for another day.

In my county of Donegal, 17 post offices are either closing or due to close. This is a result of a protocol presented to the Government by An Post, and the Government accepted that protocol. It related to post offices in areas with a population of less than 500. They are not a population. They are rural settlements. It was a deceitful way to have done this. There was no commercial analysis, no economic analysis and no rural proofing. It is fine for the people of Dublin to be 2 km from a post office but what about the people of rural Ireland?

People will have to walk or cycle or perhaps use public transport, if it is available. I refer to 15 km. The people of rural Ireland, and particularly the people of my county, have been conned by this Government. I came in here with others and we voted unanimously on an amendment to provide a public service obligation, PSO, for those rural areas. What has the Government done? It has ignored it. Together with colleagues, I went to public meetings around the constituency. Committees were selected. Days and hours were spent preparing submissions. For whom were those submissions? They were submissions to reviewers appointed by An Post. What other decision would we expect from those reviewers?

I know the name of one. I am not questioning their integrity but I believe it was only a box-ticking exercise. As I said earlier, it was a deceitful way of dealing with the people of rural Ireland. I went to the GPO, together with my colleagues, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Pringle, with bags full of submissions. We might as well have put a match to them in the middle of O'Connell Street because they had no effect whatsoever. It is not good enough that An Post and the Government have not accepted the will of this House and a unanimous decision by this House. The Government has totally ignored it. We are not prepared to accept this and it has conned the people of rural Ireland.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I, too, am very disappointed. I welcome the reappointment of Deputy Canney as a Minister of State and I wish him well in his post. It is, however, an insult that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is not here. There is insult after insult. Newcastle Save Our Post Office committee sent its appeal by registered post on 26 September 2018. It expected and was led to believe that it would have a decision within 28 days. A committee member contacted An Post on 21 October 2018 because they still had not received any news about their appeal. The committee was informed that it was with an independent assessor. Independent my eye.

As Deputy Gallagher said, this is a box-ticking exercise. The appeal was a comprehensive one. I salute the committee. After a huge public meeting in Newcastle, the committee substantially tackled and addressed each item listed in the protocol with supporting maps, photographs, letters and almost 1,000 signatures from the small village I represent in south Tipperary and the Waterford border. The appeal itself was seven pages long. The so-called independent assessor did not have the manners to contact the committee, acknowledge it or even to ring.

We found out this morning that a local councillor got a letter. The committee itself has got no letter yet stating that its appeal was turned down. This is outrageous. The Minister of State is back in power. I ask him to go back to his senior Minister and tell him to put manners on these An Post officials and the so-called independent assessor. The committee worked very hard to put together a substantial appeal and the committee members are answerable to the community through a public meeting. It was a public process which was engaged in and the committee has nothing to tell them. The committee has not even got a letter.

Kilmeaden post office in Waterford got it today as well. The closure was part of a dirty filthy agreement reached between the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, and An Post. It was just another aspect of the unembarrassed contempt for rural Ireland that the Government, which the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, chose to join again, has for the people of rural Ireland. In April 2018, the IPU hyped up the outcome of the negotiations with An Post as an outcome that was, allegedly, all about maintaining the delivery of local post office services throughout the State.

The Minister of State is losing his own constituency and he knows it. Today we know those words were meaningless. The people are not cared about. The so-called agreement included a €50 million investment package to fund the post office network and negotiated redundancy settlements, and it was sold as snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Where is the victory for our post office? People have been told to travel 7 km to Ardfinnan. What happens if they do not have a car or if they are not able to drive? There is no taxi service and there is no bus service. This is an insult to rural Ireland. Rural proofing my backside. There is no such thing as rural proofing here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I thank Deputy McGrath.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I will come back in later.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I will let the Deputy back in again.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this issue. I apologise for the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is not here to answer the Deputies.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Where is he?

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney He is-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Hiding.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney He has a duplication of business and he asked me to take the question for him. I welcome the opportunity to do that. The Government is committed to supporting a post office network that meets the needs of communities throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. A modernised post office network will provide a better range of financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses as well as Government services. We are all cognisant of the valued and dedicated service that postmasters the length and breadth of the country have given to rural and urban communities over many years.

Across the country, postmasters have taken the difficult decision in recent months to leave the business. It is important to bear in mind that this was a voluntary decision and I am sure that the decisions were not taken lightly. It is important that the decision of those who wish to leave the business is respected. The decision on whether to accept the package was solely one for individual postmasters.

I understand the concerns of older people and communities and that this is an anxious time for many of them. I remind Deputies that more than 500 post offices closed during the economic boom between 2002 and 2007, including 30 post offices in Deputy Gallagher's county of Donegal. No action was taken and the post office network was allowed to fall into decline. No new investment or services were put into it during this period. This Government did not want that to continue.

The postmasters of this country and the communities they serve deserve a clear future and a plan to be put in place for the development of and investment into the post office network and its services. We have now set out a clear path and future for the post office network. Almost two years ago, we were presented with a future for An Post and the post office network that was uncertain and extremely bleak. There was a real possibility that the company would go under. The potential for a complete shutdown of postal services with the loss of thousands of jobs was undeniable. Immediate action was needed to ensure the survival of An Post and the post office network. This was necessary to protect thousands of jobs across the country and specifically the 9,000 people working in An Post. Two years later, critically important decisions have been made. An Post has been stabilised because of the action that has been taken. The company is changing from a 19th century model to one that has relevance and can have resonance in the 21st century in rural and in urban areas.

There is widespread acceptance that the post office network requires modernisation to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities throughout the country. An Post's renewed vision for the post office network centres on the availability of new services in a modernised and revitalised network. These services must include a better range of Government services, financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The closed door.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney Investment of €50 million in the network by An Post is based on getting communities to use the enhanced services that their local post office will provide through a modernised network. Key to the future network will be the willingness of us all to use it. The agreement reached by the Irish Postmasters Union is essential to delivering on the renewed vision for the post office network. In negotiations with An Post, postmasters and postmistresses sought both the modernisation of the network and a voluntary redundancy package for those who wanted to leave the business. Talks were concluded between An Post and the IPU in April this year following three months of intensive negotiations.

The agreement was subsequently endorsed by 80% of the members of the IPU. An independent appeals process was put in place to enable communities to have reviewed a decision relating to their local post office. In addition, any retailer in any of the locations of the 159 post offices can apply to An Post to be considered to take over some or all of the services of the closing post office. If a retailer seeks to avail of services and if An Post decides for one reason or another not to provide them, that decision can also be submitted for review to an independent process.

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