RollingNews/Sasko Lazarov

'Social value' of local post offices must be protected, communications committee hears

The committee heard today that local post offices were a fundamental part of smaller towns and villages, but were at risk of being subsumed by provision of services online.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 1st 2022, 7:00 PM

MORE GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS could provide services via local post offices, the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee has heard, as postmasters grapple with declining mail volumes and the replacement of in-person services with online ones.

The Oireachtas Transport Committee heard today that local post offices were a fundamental part of smaller towns and villages, but were at risk of being subsumed by provision of services online.

The government funding announced today by Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Postal Matters, Hildegarde Naughton will be used to support the renewal and development of the Post Office network.

This, committee members said, was potentially cutting out the “10% of population who can’t or just don’t want to access services online”.

Naughton acknowledged that “the financial challenges facing postmasters are well documented and arise mainly from the decline in mail volumes and the move to electronic transactions”.

She said the government was well aware of the “social value” of local post offices, particularly to the elderly and vulnerable.

An Post aims to expand new services built around four areas of growth. Diversifying and growing financial services products is a key goal as well as making online shopping easier and expanding the range of services like Leap, Green Hub, Western Union, Gifting.  

An Post is also aiming to become a one-stop-shop  for government services. Naughton told the committee today that the departure of two banks from Ireland represented “huge potential” for service provision in local post offices.

“This is about communities, at the end of the day,” she said, adding that every single government department should examine how it could integrate its own services into local post offices. The Department of Transport, for example, is considering how motor tax payments could be done through

The state postal service owns the county’s 45 largest post offices but the vast majority are run by small business owners known as postmasters.

Postmasters are independent SMEs contracted by An Post to run post offices and the Department does not have a direct relationship or a contract with them

A major emphasis has been placed on keeping rural post offices open and approximately  €1,000 a month will be earmarked to 900 post offices across the country.

Earlier today, managing director of An Post Retail, Debbie Byrne, said: “An Post welcomes today’s announcement of the time bound package of support for Postmasters to support a sustainable Post Office network in communities across the country. The pandemic has accelerated some of the headwinds facing the network.”  

This funding marks the first time that the State has provided direct financial support to postmasters.

Naughton said earlier today that: “Post offices play a central role to both society as a whole and to Government through the provision of high-quality public services in towns, villages and cities right across the country.

“I am confident that this €30 million multi annual scheme, amounting to €10 million each year for three years, will protect our post office network and will ensure that families and businesses nationwide can continue to access services from within their own communities.”

The funding will likely aid An Post in fulfilling a 2018 commitment it made to ensuring that rural areas with over 500 people will have a Post Office and that 95% of the population will be within 15km of at least one Post Office.

The Irish Postmaster’s Union (IPU) has stated that the government, like many countries across Europe, was recognising the social value of post offices.  

Welcoming today’s announcement, the President of the IPU, Seán Martin said: “The Post Office Network is the lifeblood of our towns and villages and a much-trusted focal point of our communities. The Network continues to be Ireland’s largest retail and face-to-face service network at the heart of over 900 communities serving approximately 1.3 million customers each week.

“Our role in supporting communities was never more evident than during the recent pandemic when we were one of the few government services to remain open throughout. I want to thank the Government for making this funding available in order to protect and strengthen this vital infrastructure for the public’s benefit.”  

With reporting from Emer Moreau

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