I wrote this letter to local newspapers following the recent RTE Primetime Programme on the future of post offices
I refer to the recent Primetime Programme aired on RTE 1 on the future of the post offices.
Our own local post office in the North Cork village of Lombardstown faced closure in 2006 due to the lack of computerisation of the post office which would allow it to carry out a number of additional services. Before this, everything was done manually in the post office which as you can imagine took much longer to administer and complete. The community of Lombardstown rallied fully behind the post office and postmistress and subsequently, the Save Lombardstown Post Office Action Committee was set up in order to fight for the computerisation of our local post office. After a four year long battle with An Post and the then Government, An Post finally computerised Lombardstown Post Office which was quickly followed by the computeristion of all remaining unautomated rural post offices nationwide, which was approx 260 post offices. It is no doubt that the strenuous fight Lombardstown put up against the closure of its local post office led the way for the computerisation of all other post offices nationwide ensuring the remaining post offices can now provide an equal service to all communities.
It is my view now that each community who has the advantage of a post office remaining in their community now face a renewed fight with An Post and the current government who continue to remove vital services from the post office such as social welfare payments. Locals have advised me that the Department of Social Protection is actively ringing people who are receiving a social welfare payment, many who are elderly and vulnerable asking them to place their payment through the banks instead of the post office. The post office network should and has to remain an option for people to collect their social welfare benefits through the post office network which is ideally placed in delivering this service as locally as possible to these clients. The local post office is also a vital tool in preventing fraud within our social welfare system as beneficiaries would need to present at their post office weekly to receive their payment.
I would also like to point out also that An Post, in my view, is not competitively pursuing new contracts to place through its network. It recently lost its bid to administer the new drivers licence through your local post office resulting in people in our community currently going up to 100KM round trip to retrieve their new drivers licence. In my role as an elected member of Cork County Council for the Kanturk/Mallow Area in North Cork, I recently placed a motion before Cork County Council which got unanimous support in requesting An Post and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to set out a detailed plan to place additional service contracts such as motor taxation, extension to current banking transactions, household and hospital charges in our local post offices in order to secure the future of the post office network nationwide. The recent introduction of payment of the Local Property Tax through the post office is an indication of the importance of having these services available locally in your own community.
The Government, in its Programme for Government, made a commitment to maintain the network and this commitment is very welcome. However, the Government doesn’t have a plan to deliver on this commitment and, with no plan, there’s no future for many post offices. If the network is lost, it will amount to 3,000 job losses in our communities. In many cases, the local shop will go too, as in many rural villages, they are both connected to the one premises and this has been the experience in the UK where the postal network was lost due to government inaction. But it’s not just jobs and shops that will be lost. The heart of many communities will disappear too, as the post office is the last remaining piece of public infrastructure in many towns and villages. The loss of the local post office is a hammer blow to any community as the post office is vital to the economic and social well being and prosperity of any village and town. Having invested in the computerisation of all post offices, the post office network is well positioned to become the front office provider of choice for Government and financial services sector. An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country and needs to further exploit its unique position in this regard. But this will not happen, unless the Government, who are the majority stakeholder in the semi state agency that An Post is come together and create a workable plan to introduce additional government service contracts through the local post office. The post office network has successfully delivered the social welfare contract for a number of years now, but we cannot be so reliant on only delivering one service. We need to place additional services in our post offices in order to make it easier for consumers who need to avail of these services to do so in their local post office.
RTE Primetime asked the question, are post offices a necessary service in today’s online world? I believe strongly there is such a need. You might have sent a parcel to family or friends overseas for Christmas or a birthday, paid a utility bill in stages if you cannot afford to pay it all in once, or got a licence for the dog or the TV at home, whichever service it was you needed, this was completed with ease in your local post office. Now, all of this is yet again under threat unless An Post and the Government come up with a detailed plan to place additional government service contracts through the network of post offices across the country.
John Paul O’ Shea
PRO of the Save Lombardstown Post Office Committee
Laharn, Lombardstown, Mallow, Co Cork.