Belfast Telegraph

Post office decisions not taken lightly, says minister

Communications Minister Denis Naughten told a committee that the planned closure of 159 post offices across the country was required.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten has told a committee that the planned closure of 159 post offices across the country was required as the entire postal network almost collapsed last year.

The minister said that “97 weeks ago I was presented with a future for An Post that was uncertain and extremely bleak”.

He said: “I was determined the company would not go under on my watch because of the failure to act by successive governments.

“I could have sat on my hands and ignored it and let hundreds of post offices continually close.”

The minister listed declining mail volumes, eSubstitution and the move to online payments and online banking as major impacts on the sector.

No minister wants to be in the position I am in today, but I've decided we need to have a viable future for the post office network Denis Naughten

Mr Naughten added: “If politically we shirk decision-making, we potentially ultimately will have no post office network at all.

“No minister wants to be in the position I am in today, but I’ve decided we need to have a viable future for the post office network.

“These are not decisions that have been taken lightly or without good reason.

“At the last general election, postmasters came and asked for a modernisation plan for the post office, we’re doing that, and redundancy package, we’re doing that, and a look at new services, which is happening at the moment.”

The minister added that it is longstanding policy that postal services will not be directly subsidised by Government.

Mr Naughten appeared before the meeting of the Communications, Climate Action and Environment Committee to answer questions on the restructuring plan, worked out between An Post and the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU).

The plan has been criticised by some over the anticipated impact on rural Ireland, with some saying the Government had failed in its commitment to rural life.

The minister refuted the idea that the post office was central to rural communities.

He said: “The post offices were the nucleus of the community in the past but I don’t believe that today.

“We have not seen new innovative services in the post office, we don’t see young people using services in the post office.

“That can only be done by modernising the post office network.”

The changes will affect post offices in Carlow, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Mayo, Tipperary and Wexford.

The meeting was attended by representatives from An Post, the Post Office Networks and representatives of An Post mailing centres.

Seamus Maye, chairman of the Public Banking Forum of Ireland, urged the Government to think outside the box in relation to saving the post office network.

He said: “Ireland’s post office can become a core plank of rebuilding Ireland, but the current narrative is all wrong, we can at the stroke of a pen turn it into a thriving multi-service provider.

“The current An Post proposals are bizarre and ill thought out, and would see the destruction of one of our best institutions.

“Going forward, we need to think outside the box to avoid wanton destruction of our post office network.”

Tom O’Callaghan, leader of the forum’s post office unit, said that the Government is attacking its own national asset.

Some of the committee members agreed with the suggestion of a community bank being run by An Post to offer loans to small businesses and low-income households who would be turned away from pillar banks.

The committee heard the cost of setting up such a bank would be around 160 million euro.

“We have an opportunity to do the right thing for the first time ever,” Mr O’Callaghan added.

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph