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'The closure of our post office would mean the death of our village'

A small village in Co Sligo, reminiscent of many others in Ireland, is fighting back.

easkey Easkey Post Office Source: Nadine Keogh

A SMALL VILLAGE in Co Sligo is fighting to stop the closure of its post office.

In the past 25 years, close to 800 post offices have been shut down across the country. People in Easkey now fear their local office could soon close its doors for the last time.

Louis Smith has worked in the post office in the village for over four decades. He began working there in 1973, before taking over the business in the early 1980s after both his parents passed away.

“I’ve worked there for about 45 years, bar a few years working in banks in Dublin. I was brought up there before [working there], it’s been in my blood all my life.”

Smith, 66, handed in his retirement notice to An Post in January. After accepting his notice, the company informed him that the future of the post office was under consideration.

The office serves about 1,000 houses in the area and Smith said a large percentage of these households use the service regularly.

“I can’t say if it’s viable but it’s busy. There are queues on plenty of days, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

“It would be sad (if it closed). I would love to see it remain open and continue, of course,” he told TheJournal.ie.

original (3) Easkey, Co Sligo Source: Órla Ryan

A notice that will be familiar to many areas, particularly rural ones, in Ireland was recently sent to Smith. It states: “An Post is considering the future post office service provision at Easkey, which could include the permanent closure of the office.

“However, before the company takes any decision, interested parties who wish to are invited to submit their views on the matter to the address below no later than the 23rd of February 2018.

“In coming to our decision we will take account of:

  • Network coverage needs
  • The level of business at the office
  • Customer access to service elsewhere, eg travel distances etc
  • Capacity of neighbouring offices to handle business if the office closes

“Following consideration of any views received the company will then proceed to take a decision on the matter.”

The notice now hangs on the post office wall, as well as in other local businesses in Easkey.

‘Death of the village’

Marie Weir of local community group LEAP is helping organise a public meeting about the potential closure.

“We lost the chemist, that brought the village down. Then the barracks (garda station), that was another thing gone from the village. The village was slowly dying…

“The closure of our post office would mean the death of our village and this must not happen,” Weir said.

Easkey has undergone a resurgence in recent years, with more young people and families moving to the area and new businesses opening.

Weir said all this good work could be undone by the closure of the post office.

The reason we’re saying it’d be the death of the village is, if you ask Bernie in the local shop or Gary in the butchers they say if you don’t have the pensioners going to the post office and the people collecting their social welfare payments, they might as well close.

“If those people go to the post office in another village, they’ll do their shopping there too.”

original (2) Main Street, Easkey, Co Sligo Source: Órla Ryan

Weir said older people will be particularly affected by any potential closure.

“Some pensioners obviously have no transport so their son or daughter or a friend drops them into the village to go to the post office. While they’re there they do their shopping too.

People might say we harp on about the social aspect too much but that’s hugely important to many people.

Weir said one local woman, who is 101 years old, comes up to the post office for her pension every week.

“She doesn’t want anyone to collect it for her as it gives her an opportunity to meet her friends.

“An Post don’t care about the social aspect, one of the only hopes of saving it is its banking service. There’s no ATM in the village and the travelling bank only comes once a week.

“People use the post office for lodgements so they don’t have to close their business while they go to town.”

Weir said many local businesses do their banking via the post office as it saves them a trip to a bank in Ballina, Co Mayo – a town about 27km away. Internet speeds in the area are generally not great, making it difficult to do things like online banking.

Rural Ireland

The situation in Easkey has been repeated in many towns and villages across Ireland – particularly in rural areas.

The post office in Easkey is one of four outlets currently under review by An Post. The others are located in Ardnaree in Co Mayo, Glencar in Co Kerry and Ballineen in Co Cork.

As is the case in Easkey, there’ll be a three-week public consultation period before An Post makes a decision about these offices.

Angus Laverty, Public Affairs Manager at An Post, said about five to seven post offices close every year – often after the retirement or death of the postmaster or postmistress.

“There’s a popular belief that there’s a huge number closing every week and that’s not the case,” Laverty said.

2/10/2015 Post offices Boxes File photo of a post box Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

He told TheJournal.ie the fact that hundreds of post offices have closed over the course of 25 years “reflects changes in rural Ireland and how people do their business and shopping in larger towns” as well as online.

An Post, which operates about 1,100 post offices nationwide, lost €15.6 million last year. The business has diversified in recent years and added additional services such as banking facilities and DeliveryBox, which aims to rival the Parcel Motel delivery service.

In November, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment announced that €30 million of State funding would be invested into An Post to “protect the future of the post office network and the continuation of a five-day week postal delivery service”.

‘People in Dublin making decisions’

If the post office in Easkey does shut down, the nearest offices are in the nearby villages of Dromore West (about 8km away) and Enniscrone (13km away).

Smith said people who say customers can just go to one of these post offices instead are missing the wider point.

People in Dublin make decisions to shut rural post offices. If they look outside the GPO, they see 20 to 30 buses going in any direction you want at any given time. We don’t have that here.

“Every house has a different story. One woman, whose adult son is mentally disabled, has to rely on a lift at a set time on a Friday to get to the post office. I know she’s coming and serve her as soon as she arrives as she only has a certain amount of time.”

original (1) Easkey, Co Sligo Source: Órla Ryan

Smith said a number of people with intellectual and physical disabilities also use the post office, some of whom are unable to get a public bus to another village.

He agrees that the social side of the post office is extremely important for local people, particularly those who are older.

“I often joke that I’m going to get a coffee and tea machine.

Some people only see the postman in the morning and me on the Friday (when they pick up their pension) and the neighbours that they meet in the post office queue.

“I enjoy listening to them catching up, it’s a nice environment.”

Laverty said it’s “understandable” that people in Easkey and elsewhere are worried their post offices potentially closing.

He told us the needs of older people and people with disabilities are “of course” taken into account when An Post makes a decision about the future of a post office, as are the distance to the nearest alternative post office and public transport facilities in the area.

We are aware of our social obligations, we’re not just a business, but we have to weigh that up against the cost.

“In many parts of the country people are not going to the post office, they’re going into their local town instead.

“The reality is that the post office is the last man standing, in many places the shop has closed, the creamery has certainly closed, the garda station has closed, and in some cases the school has closed,” he said.

Wild Atlantic Way

Weir said people in Easkey hope the fact the village is part of the Wild Atlantic Way will help their case. The successful tourism campaign has played a large part in Easkey’s recent resurgence, with Weir saying tourists from all over the world have visited.

“It would be a disaster if people arrived in the village and there was nothing there,” she said, adding that this would be “a bit of a kick in teeth” given how well the area has been doing in recent years.

Weir said a lot of young people “who have put their faith in Easkey” may leave if businesses have to shut down.

original Surfers in Easkey, Co Sligo Source: Órla Ryan

“Young people, like my two boys who used to be in London, saw that it was a great place to bring up a family and moved here. Now they’re thinking, ‘My god, don’t tell me it’s going to go downhill.’

If [the post office] closes, it will be a deserted village.

Weir said local councillors have said they will support the campaign to keep the post office open and are expected to attend a public meeting in the village’s community centre at 8pm today.

They have offered to raise the issue at the next meeting of Sligo County Council but, as that won’t take place until March, it will be after the deadline An Post has given locals for feedback about the potential closure (23 February).

Weir said local TDs can’t attend tonight’s meeting as they’ll be in Dublin attending the Dáil, but are expected to send representatives.

A number of local people have expressed an interest in applying for Smith’s job when he retires.

“I’ll have no role in that decision but I’ve no doubt that someone would take it over, the interest is there,” Smith said.

“People have been saying to me, ‘I don’t know what we’ll do when you go.’ I don’t know what to tell them.”

Read: The long, slow death of the Irish post office

Read: The Co Sligo village where self-help is the path to growth

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