Rebellious postmasters storm GPO seeking action

Protestors see the future of the post office inextricably linked to a way of life in rural Ireland, rather than a means to make money, writes Michael Clifford.

Rebellious postmasters storm GPO seeking action

MAYBE they thought barrelling through the side door would deliver the element of surprise, but after an aborted attempt at entry, they stormed the GPO by the main entrance.

Just like 101 years ago, the clientele inside didn’t think much of the whole kerfuffle, initially.

After all, these protesting postmasters looked no more threatening than Pearse and Connolly at first glance.

However, within minutes, things turned ugly.

They raised their placards and marched around and around in an unwieldy and noisy circle in the main hall.

“What do we want,” a man with an honorary chain around his neck called out.

“Action,” came the reply.

Not exactly the rousing response designed to kick off a rebellion, but as the first shots in a battle to save rural Ireland, it would have to do.

Postmasters from the four corners came home to the mothership in Dublin’s O’Connell St yesterday to give notice that they will not go gently into the night of commercial expediency.

These tribunes of rural Ireland are determined to save post offices from an expected massacre.

Quite reasonably, they see the future of the post office inextricably linked to a way of life, rather than a means to make money.

Postmasters inside the GPO protesting against Post Office closures driven by An Post.
Postmasters inside the GPO protesting against Post Office closures driven by An Post.

They are battling for more than jobs.

“If you close down the postal network, it will be a disaster for rural Ireland, according to Vincent Harney, who travelled from his post office in Athlone to the protest.

There were about three dozen postmasters at yesterday’s protest, but this was billed as a get-together for reps rather than the general mass of those who operate post offices.

Their purpose was to hand a letter into David McRedmond, An Post chief executive, who has made some waves since taking up office last year. This was what prompted the charge through the side door, which was aborted.

Outside the GPO, a squad car pulled up, signalling that the forces of law and order were determined that there would be no more rebellions on this site.

A pair of gardaí kept their distance, ready at the lick of a stamp to intervene if there were any attempts to interfere with the business being conducted in this communication centre.

In reality, you couldn’t meet a less threatening class of protestor than this lot.

As the gathering was across the river from Leinster House, there were precious few politicians willing to make the journey.

The only TD who showed up was People Before Profit’s Brid Smith, who came to champion rural Ireland, even though she represents the heart of Dublin.

There is no argument about the obvious reality that the traditional business of postage is going south fast.

“There’s no doubt here has been a fall-off. The postal business is in decline, but the public are happy to use post offices if there are other services there.

We can process motor tax and college fees and the like, as well as social welfare payments.

It doesn’t help when the Government is encouraging people to sign up to direct debits,” says Thomas Martin, who runs a post office in Waterford City.

Irish Postmasters’ Union general secretary Ned O’Hara with a letter requesting to meet with An Post CEO David McRedmond.
Irish Postmasters’ Union general secretary Ned O’Hara with a letter requesting to meet with An Post CEO David McRedmond.

Storm clouds have gathered with intensity since McRedmond took up his role. He commissioned a report from McKinsey consultants.

A leak to the media at the weekend suggested up to 200 of the 1,000 post offices may face the chop. Around 400 others closed in recent years.

One quip doing the rounds yesterday was that the country has been reduced to employing McKinsey to design the future of rural Ireland.

The big question that is going unanswered is what exactly is An Post servicing? Is it a semi-state company with an entirely commercial mandate, or does it represent a strand of social life that has its own premium?

As far as most people are concerned, both of these masters are to be served, but how exactly is a question that is bound to develop into a battle.

At least four placards on display at the GPO yesterday bore the name Bobby Kerr, as if the man in question was a lost leader of rural Ireland from the days of rebellion.

In reality, Kerr, an entrepreneur and broadcaster, was the chairman of a review group set up two years ago to find a way forward for rural post offices. His report was delivered last November and is yet to be published.

It is widely believed he has recommended the closure of 80 branches and an investment of €56m. For many postmasters, Kerr represents the devil they know.

His measures may not be greeted with enthusiasm, but there is acceptance that he did a good job in difficult circumstances.

The devil they don’t know is McKinsey, an outfit that most likely knows the cost of everything, but little of the value of a post office to rural Ireland.

“Life is about more than technology. There is community too. We have what is probably the most trusted brand in the country and now they want to throw that away,” says Ventry postmaster, Seamus Ó Luing, of the transformations that have occurred in communication in recent decades.

The protest ended peacefully. No new Republic was proclaimed on the steps of the GPO.

However, much conflict lies ahead.

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