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Independent TD threatens to withdraw support for government over post office closures

It is feared that post offices around the country are set to close in the near future.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated 1.30pm

INDEPENDENT TD MICHAEL Harty has “put the government on notice” that he will withdraw his support for it on Dáil votes if it doesn’t guarantee the future of the post office network.

Speaking today, the Clare TD said that the government had not followed through with its commitments on post offices as agreed with independent TDs.

“I will not stand over a reduction in our post offices,” Harty told reporters, saying that when the government was being formed Fine Gael had guaranteed independent TDs that the future of rural post offices would be safeguarded.

When asked if he was preparing to withdraw his support for government on the issue, he said “absolutely”.

He did not give a timeline on when he would withdraw support, but any loss of votes could hit the government hard with very tight numbers in the Dáil at the moment meaning it is a case of every vote counts.

Harty fears as many as 500 post offices could go and said there was a “lack of governance and accountability on the issue”.

Responsibility

Earlier, the government had changed who is responsible for the country’s post office network, with Minister Denis Naughten re-taking control from Minister Michael Ring.

The issue of who exactly in the government was responsible for the post office network in Ireland was the subject of much debate in recent weeks, with both Naughten and Ring saying that it wasn’t up to them on several occasions in the Dáil.

Yesterday, Minister Naughten requested that responsibility for the network be handed back to him and his request was “happily accepted” by Michael Ring’s senior Minister, Heather Humphreys.

The office of Michael Ring said he had “no comment to make” in response to a request from TheJournal.ie.

A spokesperson for Naughten, the Minister for Communications, said he is “delighted to have responsibility for the An Post network back in his portfolio”.

The future of the post office network is in doubt, with postmasters recently holding a protest inside the GPO amid reports that post offices across the country are set to close.

In the face of falling incomes and uncertainty about the future, postmasters want the measures suggested in the Bobby Kerr report implemented in order to modernise the service that post offices offer, to guarantee their viability going forward.

The issue has been important for both rural and urban TDs alike, with both Ministers Ring and Naughten frequently asked about the future of the post office network.

In feisty scenes in the Dáil recently, Ring drew a withering response from opposition deputies when he said that he had “no statutory responsibility for An Post” and that decisions on whether there are to be any closures are matters “for the board and management of An Post”.

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív called it “the most extraordinary performance ever by a Minister of State” and Independent TD Mattie McGrath said Ring claiming he had no responsibility was the “greatest Pontius Pilate act” he had ever witnessed.

McGrath also accused the Minister of washing his hands of the problem, when Ring said it was Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten who was responsible for these matters.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Solidarity-PBP TD Bríd Smith said the government was “passing the parcel” on the issue and said that if it continues to ignore the problem, post offices will inevitably close.

She said: “No one is taking responsibility, and it is local post offices that are suffering.”

Taking it back

Naughten has said in the Dáil on numerous occasions that the responsibility for the post office network was switched from his communications department to the Department of Rural Affairs last summer, following a cabinet decision.

Despite this, Minister Ring said that, at the start of the month, the final decisions rested with Naughten anyway.

He said: “My department [rural affairs] is also willing to continue to work with An Post and the Irish Postmasters Union, which were both members of the post office hub working group that I establish.

I was given the role in government to establish that and I did establish it. I am making recommendations to government and the person who has responsibility for this is the minister, Denis Naughten. I do not have responsibility for it.

When Naughten reiterated his position that it was not his responsibility in a Dáil debate last week, Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said that he had “succeeded in confusing just about everybody” on whose responsibility it was.

A spokesperson for Naughten said he was delighted to have the post office network definitively back in his portfolio, saying “he has a genuine interest in it”.

He is also said to be “looking forward to helping to deliver a sustainable postal network across the country by focusing on new digital opportunities working closely with the board, management and staff of An Post, postmasters and the whole of government”.

Naughten is also seeking the return of the rollout of broadband in rural areas into his portfolio.

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

Read: Postmasters’ protest storms the GPO

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Sean Murray

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