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Post Office Closures (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] That matter was referred to by Deputy Gallagher. Any such appeal should be submitted as soon as possible.

Of the post offices referred to in County Meath, I understand seven have been closed in the consolidation process that was announced last year. I have also been told that An Post proposed to open a new post office, with Kentstown being chosen as the location, but having advertised twice for someone to take on the position, it has as yet received no applications.

Key to the survival of the network is the willingness of the public to use the services the post office provides. Investment of €50 million in the network is under way. It is based on getting communities to use the enhanced services provided. There is no doubt that continued transformation of the postal business will be difficult and require tough decisions to make An Post fit for the future.

To respond to the specific issues raised by Deputies Michael Healy-Rae and Ferris, I will ask the office of the Minister to reply directly to them specifically on the issues they raised following their meeting with representative of the Irish Postmasters Union.

Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I remind the House - reference to it was made by Deputies Ferris and Pearse Doherty - that when we voted on the Private Members' motion, not alone was it carried but it was also unanimous. The Government supported the motion, but then in a cynical exercise it went off and did the opposite. When the Minister of State says it is not a matter for the Government and that An Post is a statutory body, it was the Government that gave it its imprimatur. Ministers, including the Minister from County Donegal, gave An Post their imprimatur to do this. Furthermore, there is the cynical exercise of using settlement patterns, rather than judging on the basis of a population of 1,740 in Kilcar. The Minister of State has said they can go to Carrick or Glencolumbkille, but there are no existing transport services that link them. Closing the post office is a much bigger issue because other businesses will suffer as a result and jobs will be lost. I appeal to the Minister of State to request the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to meet the Deputies for County Donegal at the earliest possible date in order that we can make the case directly to him. We cannot hide behind statutory bodies when it is the Government that has taken this decision.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty We need a bit of common sense. I invite the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come to Kilcar to see, listen and talk to the people and businesses that use the service all the time. People are employed by businesses that are trying to build up what is a rural Gaeltacht area, but they see the State taking services away from them. The suggestion made by Deputy Gallagher is one that needs to be actioned as soon as possible. We need to talk face to face with the Minister and to do so quickly as the post office is to close in the next couple of days, although there is no reason whatsoever for it to close. This falls outside the agreement between the Irish Postmasters Union and An Post. The voluntary redundancies have happened. We were told that they were to secure the network, but now another post office is to close. How many other post offices will close if this is the carry-on by An Post while the Government sits on its hands? The spin it puts on it, that any community with 500 or more people will have a postal service, is nonsense. Kilcar has a population of more than 1,000. The way in which the Government calculates the figure is completely disingenuous and amounts to nothing more than spin. We need an extension of time, a meeting with the Minister and him to visit the area in order that the Government can get a feel of what it really means and what it is doing to the area in pulling out the heart of this rural community.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne I endorse with what my colleagues have said about their local post offices because the same applies to my area. I informed the Minister's office about the position in Carlanstown where a postal agency has closed. They do not cost An Post anything, but they provide an unbelievably valuable service in distributing social welfare payments. Just like the village mentioned by my colleague, there is no public transport between Carlanstown and Kells post office, despite the fact that the NTA promised such a service approximately one year ago. This is a very serious issue. The heart is being pulled out of villages and people are being told to travel to the nearest town. The nearest town - Kells - is very important, but it is also seriously important to protect villages. I ask the Minister of State and the Minister to go back to An Post with what he has said in the House about Kentstown post office because it does not tally with what I am told on the ground by people who were interested in taking on the position. They expressed interest to An Post, but the terms and conditions were simply too onerous for anybody to open a new post office. The population of Kentstown is approximately 1,200 people and a post office was promised but not delivered, which was the most cynical exercise ever. To sugarcoat the dreadful announcement made last year, we were told about all of the post offices being opened, but then we found that there was no sugarcoating. That leave a bitter taste in the mouths of people.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris Zoom on Martin Ferris What is needed is an active policy change by the Government to try to secure the survival and viability of rural post offices as otherwise 600 post offices will close in the next number few years. That is the reality. It will happen in the constituency of the Minister of State and the constituency of every Deputy in the House. It would take very little to make them secure and viable such as delivering social welfare payments. In my county, Tús, a public body, has been instructing people that they must open a bank account in order that money can be paid into them. That is wrong. They were receiving their money in the post office. Welfare payments, motor tax, driver licences, change of ownership of vehicles, driver and theory test payments, registration of electors, hospital charges, local authority parking fines and toll charges are just a few of the services that could be provided through post offices to make them viable. When we bring people into the local post office, it contributes to the introduction of other transactions. The Government needs to be active in promoting a policy to ensure the survival and viability of local rural post offices.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Places such as The Climbers Inn in Glencar and Browne's shop in Ballinskelligs held on to what we will call new post offices and we are very glad of it in County Kerry. However, we lost other post offices. When a post office is lost, it tears the heart out of a community. It is something that does not need to happen. We can hold on to more of them. I ask this question, as I have consistently during the years. We have great advocates such as Tom O'Callaghan of the Independent Postmasters Group, an independent union through which he represents many post offices. There is also the Irish Postmasters Union. They are all excellent in working together and asking the Government to do one thing - to assist us and not let us go down the road followed in England, Scotland and other places where thousands of post offices have been lost. If they could reopen them, they would, but they are not able to do so. It is like tearing up the rail network and then saying in 20 years' time it would be a good idea to put it back together. We cannot do that because if we lose it, it will be gone. When a post office, like a shop, pub or creamery in a rural community, is closed, there is no going back. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to help us. That is all we are asking. We are not fighting about it or being argumentative; we are just asking for help for small post offices and post offices in larger towns that are also struggling. Will he, please, help them to survive?

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan I will try to address some of the comments made. With regard to Kentstown post office, I have a reply that states the position has been advertised twice. The Deputy says that, to the best of his knowledge, he does not-----

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne It has been advertised, but people have not been able to take up the position.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The reply states it has been advertised twice, but An Post has yet to receive an application. I can only take the reply as it is.

To answer Deputy Michael Healy Rae on the issue of engagement with the Irish Postmasters Union - other Deputies mentioned a meeting with the Minister - I will relay the request to the Minister.

When I was listening to Deputy Gallagher, I thought of my own town of Newcastle West, where seven post offices were closed during the time another Government was in office and when the same issues arose. The Minister is the shareholder, as we all know in this House because the party opposite was in government once upon a time when waves of post offices were closed. The same issue was raised as to whether the Minister could intervene to keep open the post offices in Ballagh, Mountcollins, Tournafulla, Castlemahon and Feohanagh, as well as all of the other post offices in my part of the country that were closed. Deputy Michael Healy Rae is right that we need greater dialogue on the network of post offices between An Post, the Irish Postmasters Union and all of the stakeholders. We also all need to support post offices. We all have an obligation as people who want to keep services alive in rural areas to support them.

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