The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) say it is now vital that the Government commit to supporting the postal network.
IPU secretary general, Ned O’Hara, warned that many branches will close if commitments are not put into the An Post 2017 business plan and have imposed a deadline of October 7 to secure agreement on additional supports.
While postmasters believe they can become vibrant community hubs providing various State services and have put forward a number of proposals, they say the issue has “been allowed to drift” and are frustrated at a lack of Government action.
“We are now at a crossroad. If nothing is done by Government to support use of post offices, hundreds will close in the coming years with a large number under immediate threat. These offices are in urban as well as rural areas,” Mr O’Hara said.
He estimated that up to 10% of post offices could close in the next 12 months if action is not taken now. These closures would be on top of 198 post offices which shut between 2007 and 2010 and a further 24 closures between 2011 and 2014.
Mr O’Hara said postmasters want to stay open to provide current as well as additional services to their communities, both urban and rural.
But, he said, postmasters are contracted by Government through An Post and are now relying on both the Government and An Post to sign off on letting branches provide more services, such as motor tax payments, tourist information, prescription-pick-up services or the sale of bus or rail tickets.
Businessman, Bobby Kerr, was tasked with looking at ways to save the country’s 1,100 post offices — many of which are struggling to survive.
Mr Kerr’s report said the social contribution of post offices must be taken into account and found that an overhaul of outdated postmaster payments and contracts is needed.
The former Dragon’s Den star published the report —which demanded immediate action — in January and agreed to stay on to work on implementing the recommendations. However, postmasters say little progress has been made since.
Mr O’Hara said postmasters recognise there are changing consumer needs and choices in this digital and electronic age.
Postmasters want to change to meet these needs and be part of a renewed and developed post service.
They have put forward numerous suggestions to Government which would help offices stay alive, but would also enhance supports in isolated communities where garda stations, bank branches and other services have been lost.
The Irish Examiner has previously reported on the possibility of introducing remote health or eHealth services for local residents.
Post offices could provide a private booth where people could have a virtual consultation with a GP or other medical professional.
The service could also enable examination of vital signs using testing equipment available in a private booth at the post office.
Likewise, they believe the post office could become a State information dissemination center which could provide general information and information on applications for grants.