Postmasters and community groups have called for a monetary value to be put on the social benefit of rural and isolated post offices to help them survive.
Age Action, Irish Rural Link and the union repressing postmasters all believe the important social role post offices play in isolated communities should also be taken into account when assessing the amount of money they make.
A report into the future of the country’s 1,300 post offices authored by entrepreneur Bobby Kerr suggests that post offices will have to diversify, add services or co-locate with other businesses to stay afloat.
Seamus Boland, Irish Rural Link chief executive said: “A cost has to be put on the social benefits and we can’t underestimate that. Services to the likes of the islands and wider isolated areas have to be subsidised.”
He said if this is not done the report may lead to closures instead of keeping branches open.
The An Post report does recommend that small post offices, which are the lifeblood of many communities, be subsidised for a number of years to help them adapt and survive. However, the support, which could be up to €20,000 a year, would only be given for a few years and in that time post offices would have to come up with a viable plan or leave the network.
Ned O’Hara general secretary of the Irish Postmasters Union said his members want a “fair crack at the whip” to give them an opportunity to stay alive.
Between 2007 and 2010 there were 198 post office closures and 24 net closures between 2011 and 2014.
Although An Post does not have a strategy of closing rural branches Mr O’Hara said when a postmaster or postmistress decides to retire, an Post will go into consultation and it is often found it is nonviable to maintain a branch in the area.
However he said: “There will always be a post office on the Aran Islands just because there has to be and that’s never going to be viable.”
Mr O’Hara said that post offices have an extremely important social value that goes beyond buying stamps and collecting the pension.
In rural areas he said post offices act as a meeting point where local issues are discussed, transport is arranged and information on security provided, he said this “hub concept” should be encouraged and developed.
“That value should be identified if the government are trying to build communities for us into the future, they should encourage these hubs to be kept alive,” he said.
Justin Moran of Age Action said: “The challenge is how do you put euro and cents on the importance a post office has in a community? But I think it’s something that has to be done. We need to look at the contribution it makes on the lives of those in communities, we have to remember that is not just a business it’s a service.”
Dragon’s Den star Mr Kerr will now stay on for another six months to work on implementing the proposals. These proposals will seek to tackle outdated postmaster payments and contracts and encourage branches to increase the number of services they provide.
A payment account system via the post office will also be introduced which will allow customers avail of banking services such as ATM cards and direct debits.
However, Mr O’Hara said: “We are concerned that it’s not just an election promise. We have fought for the past three or four year to get this and it transcends elections.”
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