Published 23rd Jan 2020
As Ireland’s post office network faces further closure from mid-2021 fears have emerged that most of Donegal’s rural network will be wiped out as the service continues to be stalled due to lack of investment and new services: that’s according to Tom O’Callaghan of the Independent Postmasters Group.
O’Callaghan says that from next year onwards an estimated 600 Post Offices in all areas of the country are facing shut down due a total lack of government investment in new business plans, including the rollout of mortgages and an independent banking model based on the phenomenally successful New Zealand Kiwi(Post)Bank model. *
There are currently 952 offices in the Post Office Network including 897 Postmaster run offices, 45 An Post company offices. He has warned that with the failure of the network to move into new services, mortgages and banking, the entire network will be reduced to 350 offices and the major burden of closures will affect every part of rural Ireland.
Mr. O’Callaghan said the current renewal plan top up payments being paid on a temporary basis are due to run out in mid 2021 with no new package in sight. “This,” he says, “will force almost all of the network apart from the major population centres out of business on commercial grounds.
Donegal has already seen 17 post office closures in these past two years amid fear that many others are also about to shut the door for the final time because their enterprises are no longer a viable commercial venture.
At the same time the Irish Postmasters Union has warned that hundreds of Post Offices in villages, towns and cities could close over the next two years if urgent action is not taken by the next Government. The IPU has now called for all parties and candidates to commit to a Public Service Obligation being introduced for post offices, and also for many more Government services provided through the network.
IPU General Secretary Ned O’Hara said that post office business is declining year on year, with a 7% decrease in volumes transacted in Postmaster operated offices in 2019. Hundreds of offices are at a tipping point of viability. This election is critical for Post Offices. In order to maintain a Network, State support including a PSO will need to be sanctioned. Under a current renewal plan top up payments are temporarily being paid to the majority of Post Offices, as part of a new contract. However, these payments are due to run out in mid 2021.The next Government must plan for this, or the Network faces collapse on a massive scale.
Speaking on the issue Deputy Thomas Pringle said: “Without a strong and vibrant post office network, towns and villages are negatively affected which has been the case in Donegal since Fine Gael came to power. Fine Gael’s anti-rural policies have led to a devastated Irish postal network leading to dozens of post office closures in Donegal alone. Many more are at risk as the network has been greatly weakened by policies this Government has pushed through. The Government has steadily decreased the amount of funding it has provided and has reduced the amount of business it does with the network over the past number of years.
“There are many ways we can strengthen the network again. I have repeatedly called for the protection of existing social welfare contracts to ensure a steady stream of business is given to post offices. I’ve also called for the roll out of new services to prop up post office revenue. This would help to counteract the erosion of business carried out under Fine Gael’s tenure. The next Government must also ensure that top-ups are maintained which are due to run out in 2021 and enact the long- abandoned Post Office Network Renewal Plan which was never enacted.”
IPU President Sean Martin said: “A pillar of the 2018 Post Office Network Renewal Plan has not been delivered by this Government. This was a commitment to delivering many new Government services via the Post Office. This has not happened to date and that needs to change with the next Government. While new services will help to maximise the Network’s offering, it will not be enough to address the crisis expected in July 2021. It will not just be rural Offices that are at risk, but also a large number of urban offices who carry out a majority of Network transactions. If they were to close, it would have drastic consequences for the current post office business model. The impending crisis of the Post Office Network needs to be an election issue with commitments given and inclusion of a PSO, and roll out of new services, in the next programme for Government,” Mr Martin said.
Milford, Co. Donegal
Tel. 0353 (0)74 91 53600
*For more details on the Kiwi(Post)Bank Model visit https://republicirelandbank.com/?page_id=704