Fine Gael’s Noel Harrington said the Government should be expanding the services at Castletownbere’s district social welfare office and not cutting hours.
“I have asked the department to re-examine the situation and I’m awaiting a response,” he said last night.
The department has operated an outreach office in Castletownbere, providing a jobseeker’s benefit claims service on a weekly basis, via its Bantry office since 1995.
Staff from Bantry used to attend the Castletownbere office every Wednesday and one Tuesday a month.
However, since the end of March, this arrangement has changed to the first Tuesday and Wednesday of every month to take claims and for signing on purposes.
Mr Harrington raised the issue in the Dáil and urged a review. He said the office serves the town’s population of 1,500, and the residents of Bear and Dursey Island, Allihies, Eyeries, Garnish, Ardgroom, and Adrigole.
“Castletownbere is on the periphery of the department’s network and all I am asking is that one official of that department would travel the 30 miles from Bantry to Castletownbere once a week rather than asking the clients from Castletownbere and the Beara Peninsula to travel every week to Bantry,” he said.
“With two offshore islands also involved, it is quite a challenge for those on social protection.
“Public transport is sporadic to say the least and to use the bus service provided by Bus Éireann would entail a two-day journey.
“The clients of the department live on a week-to-week basis and not a month-to-month basis.”
CSO figures for the general Bantry area, including Castletownbere, indicate it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
The area’s tourism-related and fish processing work is seasonal, which means people need support through the signing on process.
“We are not asking for much. We just ask that the office remain open one day a week rather than the proposed monthly service in premises for which the department already has a contract,” Mr Harrington said.
Joe Costello, a junior minister, said the changes have taken place “in the context of the business requirements of the department in light of available resources”.
“I am satisfied that an adequate and appropriate level of service is being provided in Castletownbere,” he said.
He pointed to an expanded departmental presence in Castletownbere, with supplementary welfare and employment support services available on a weekly basis, a social welfare inspector attending every Thursday, and an employment services officer attending the Beara adult education centre on the first Thursday of every month.