Communications Minister Denis Naughten has denied being “spooked” into closing rural post offices by his officials, and said he has received Government approval to investigate the possibility of providing more services through the An Post network.
Mr Naughten and David McRedmond, An Post CEO, yesterday appeared before the Oireachtas communication committee to discuss the closure of 160 post offices across the country.
Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley accused Mr Naughten of losing sight of rural communities.
The reality is that you were spooked by An Post and the officials in your department. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. You paint the worst possible picture, you spook the minister, you frighten him into the belief that the world’s about to fall in, and if the minister falls for it, the officials have a result. They’ve done that,” he said.
Mr Dooley said it was incumbent on the minister to seek alternative solutions instead of closing post offices such as a public service obligation subvention to some post offices.
Mr Naughten conceded he was “shocked” by the figures presented by An Post, but that he deferred making any decisions until after a division within the National Treasury Management Agency went over An Post’s finances. “The last thing I needed to be put into was a position where this was just thrown at me to make a quick decision, and we didn’t. We thoroughly went through all of those figures and had them independently assessed,” he said.
Mr Naughten later told the committee: “I could have taken the easy decision, as my predecessors did, and sat on my hands and ignored the issue and allow post office after post office to creep and close and see hundreds of post offices closed, but I’m not going to be disingenuous in relation to that.”
Mr McRedmond told the committee that 96.3% of customers across the country were unaffected by the closures, and the network is better positioned to deliver more services to the public than before.
The closures are an essential step to consolidate the network so it can provide those services. Where there are three post offices in a community which only has enough people to sustain two, then closing one post office makes those other two offices viable,” he said.
“If you keep all three offices open, all three offices are unviable. That is what consolidation is about, and it works. What does not work is subsidising the closing post offices, because keeping them open will kill the other offices nearby.”
Cork West Independent TD Michael Collins questioned An Post’s claim that people will still live within 15km of a post office after the 159 closures.
He said An Post’s measurement was based on 15km distances between a closing office and the next nearest office — but that people living on the wrong side of a closing office in West Cork will have even further to travel.
Mr McRedmond said on average the nearest adjoining post office to a closing office is within 7km, but admitted that those distances will be farther in more remote areas.
“I realise that this is not going to be a popular answer in relation to the situation in your area, but if I look at Cork as a whole, Co Cork has 125 post offices. The number of people affected by the post offices closures is 1.4% of people.
“98.6% of people are unaffected by that. That’s not saying that we shouldn’t have to look after the 1.4%, absolutely we should, but it shows why we have to have a measure around this, that we have very carefully looked at the network to try to make sure services are available. But I absolutely hear and accept what you are saying around West Cork,” he said.