It comes after a report on the future of the country’s 1,300 post offices published by businessman Bobby Kerr recommended immediate action to tackle serious challenges facing the network. The report found many rural and isolated post offices are not viable and must adapt to remain open in the coming years.
There were 198 closures between 2007 and 2010 and a further 24 net closures between 2011 and 2014.
However, publishing his report in January, Mr Kerr said a value needed to be put on the social contribution provided by rural offices.
The new working group, which is made up of members of the Irish Postmasters Union (IPU); An Post; the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs; Irish Rural Link; and community groups, met for the first time yesterday. Ned O’Hara IPU general secretary said good progress had been made at the meeting and the group will reconvene in September.
“The issue that we would have is that something has to be done quickly. We are waiting for this to happen since January,” he said.
He said that after Mr Kerr’s report was published it was decided two working groups would be formed, one to look into the commercial side and develop a long-term plan for post offices, and the other to examine the social aspect.
While Mr Kerr continued to develop a detailed five-year strategy for the network, former Labour Minister of State for Rural Economic Development Ann Phelan was tasked with heading up the second working group to develop rural post offices as local “service hubs”.
However, Mr O’Hara yesterday pointed out that little work has been done on this since January, because of the general election.
“We are realistic, we know the world is changing, so we have to develop a plan to deal with that,” said Mr O’Hara.
Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring yesterday said: “It is my view and Government policy that An Post should remain a strong, viable company in a position to provide a high-quality postal service and maintain a national network of customer-focused post offices in the community.
“The post office network plays an important role in serving the needs of business and domestic customers, alike. I believe that the roll-out of post office hubs could potentially be of considerable benefit to local communities and contribute greatly to rural rejuvenation.”
Among the recommendations put forward in Mr Kerr’s report is an overhaul of outdated postmaster payments and contracts.
It also outlines a number of ways of encouraging branches to increase the services they provide, including the provision of banking services such as ATM cards and direct debits.
Struggling post offices could also receive transition grants over a number of years.
The Post Office Hub Working Group will examine all aspects of the report and provide recommendations to Government before the end of the year.