eCommerce plan ‘would shut post offices’

If the Government moves to electronic payments as part of its eCommerce strategy, it could close large swathes of the country’s post offices, according to a new report.

A study completed by consultancy firm Grant Thornton, and commissioned by the Irish Postmasters’ Union, found that if An Post lost the contract to make weekly social welfare payments, then 557 of the 1,150 national network of post offices would close by 2017.

An Post has a two-year contract to provide weekly social welfare payments with a possibility of a further four years after that period.

The general secretary of the Irish Postmasters’ Union, Brian McGann, said immediate Government action was required toensure the viability of the post office network into the future, although he claimed that the Department of Social Protection was encouraging welfare recipients to use their bank accounts for payments.

“We may have won the contract in theory but the business is being diverted away on a daily basis. We cannot survive if this continues,” he said.

A number of TDs from the technical group of TDs, including Seamus Healy and John Halligan, are supporting the Irish Postmasters’ Union.

The report also found that if 75% of social welfare payments are automated that would lead to the closure of 444 post offices by 2017.

However, it also found that if motor tax renewals were made available through post offices this would save the exchequer €60.6m over a five-year period.

But the additional business generated would not compensate for the loss of the social welfare contract.

“We know that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to maintain the network of post offices but we are in no doubt that the network is under serious threat,” said Mr McGann.

“There is no plan in place to ensure that that commitment is honoured and we need one urgently.”

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