Following an emergency meeting of the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) executive and branch officers at the weekend, general secretary Ned O’Hara said after “eight or 10 meetings” of the Bobby Kerr-chaired Post Office Network Renewal Working Group, all they had done was “talked around issues without getting to the meat of it”.
The group, which includes Government representatives, representatives of An Post and of the IPU was mandated to report by mid-summer with a five-year blueprint for development of the post office network, including policy, services and investment commitments. However the action plan has yet to materialise.
Mr O’Hara said it was now “well past the agreed deadline” of July and that IPU members were demanding to know “when it will conclude and what it will deliver”.
“The leadership of the union has been asked to do all we can to put post offices onto the political agenda and encourage the Government to commit tangible investment and services,” Mr O’Hara said, although strike action is not possible because postmasters are contracted by the state.
The IPU is particularly anxious that the Government follow through on promises to deliver additional government services through the network, such as giving people the option of paying motor tax through their post office. A Grant Thornton report has estimated such a move could save the government in excess of €60m over a five year period.
Mr O’Hara said the IPU is also concerned that the Department of Social Protection is increasingly directing the public towards banks by asking them for bank account numbers for social welfare payments instead of advising that the money can also be paid through their local post office.”
“Once you direct people to banks, you lose them forever,” he said.
The IPU claims social protection payments account directly for 30% of post office business and an estimated 50% including spin-off transactions.
The report of the Post Office Network Business Development Group, also chaired by businessman Bobby Kerr, and published last January, endorsed offering motor tax services in post offices and supported the introduction and roll-out by An Post of an “ePayment Account” in 2016.
The Government agreed with these recommendations. But with little progress in either area, postmasters are to take a more aggressive approach with Government. The IPU is also annoyed at minimal progress in setting up pilots for the development of ‘Community Hub’ post offices, essentially one-stop shops providing an extended range of citizen services for people living in isolated rural areas.
To this effect, a second working group, chaired by Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring, and announced last spring, was due to have pilots in place this year. However, it has only met once to date, according to the IPU.
Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said there appeared to be “no impetus among the Government and its ministers to get on with the job of reinvigorating the network”. “Where is the urgency? People’s livelihoods, and the future of rural communities are at risk,” Mr Dooley said.
He said his party has “clear proposals to expand, and transform, our post office network” including that motor tax be paid at the local post office.
The IPU represents in excess of 1,000 postmasters across Ireland, who operate the vast majority of Ireland’s 1,100 post offices.