The Post Office backlash begins
Campaigners demand time to consult on plans
Campaigners today demanded much more time to be consulted on dramatic plans that will see the closure of nearly 100 post offices right across Northern Ireland.
The Rural Community Network wants the consultation period on the swingeing cuts to be doubled to 12 weeks - after it was revealed that the axe is set to fall on 42 branches.
This will reduce the number of post offices from 534 to 492.
However, with 54 being earmarked for restructuring as outreach services, only 438 will be permanent post office branches.
The plans were published as the Post Office Ltd launched a six-week public consultation as part of Government policy to close 2,500 post offices.
However the Rural Community Network is very concerned about the impact the closures would have on communities - particularly the elderly in remote areas.
Michael Hughes, chief executive of the Rural Community Network, said a true reflection of views needed a 12-week consultation period.
Mr Hughes said: "Change has to happen, but I think change has to be planned.
"There needs to be a long term consultation with the communities that will be affected by these closures so they have some say in the type of outreach service is meaningful to them.
"Normal procedure would be at least a 12 week consultation. To have a six week consultation period, particularly with 54 communities affected by an outreach service, is not enough time to allow those communities to have some say about a postal service that will mean something to them.
"There is a key challenge to our local MLAs and MPs to join with us in Rural Community Network to demand from the Post Office the minimum consultation period should be 12 weeks."
He added: "Post Offices are a key rural service and the Rural Community Network are concerned that this would be lost in many areas, and is going to harm the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable in our society, particularly older people and those with less mobility," he told the BBC.
However Sheila McCann, Post Office Ltd's Network Development Manager for Northern Ireland said: "Taking the decision to close any Post Office branch is always very difficult and we know will cause concern to many of our customers.
"Post Office Ltd must reduce the number of branches. The purpose of this public consultation is to ensure that we have the best available local knowledge to allow us to make the most informed decisions about which branches should close or be replaced by an outreach service."
Maureen Edmondson, Chair of Postwatch Northern Ireland, said it is important that change happens in a way that is customer-focussed and avoids confusion.
"Local information will be vital so that changes in the post office network take proper account of the particular needs and circumstances of communities."
For more information see www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange