With many of our garda stations closed and rural schools facing closure, the rural post office, which has been central to community life, is fighting for survival.
Having worked with rural communities, professionally and as an activist for 30 years, I know the contribution a post office and its post master/mistress make to community life.
The rural post master/mistress is not alone a servant of the community, but often a social worker and adviser to people in their time of need.
The post master/mistress had their hand on the pulse of happenings in their localities.
Since its formation in I884, the Gaelic Athletic Association and, indeed other sporting associations, have been deeply indebted to the contribution of the local post office and the post master.
Long before the advent of television, home computers, landlines or mobile phones, the local post office kept the locals briefed.
A trip to the post office on pension day, dole day, or to transact some other business was, for so many, a weekly social outing, where locals met and exchanged greetings or news items, whether they be happy or sad.
The post office also served as a shop and, of course, as a banking service for those who preferred the personal touch rather than an impersonal cash machine stuck in a wall.
Ireland has already experienced the problems of the centralisation of other services, such as medical cards, driving licence centres, etc.
If this vital service is also centralised, the heart of rural communities will be torn apart.
As outlined in the recent McCrohan report, the GAA is also fighting for its survival in many rural parishes, and let’s not forget that those rural clubs provided Kerry with a grand total of I59 senior All-Ireland medal winners.
In 2009, Senator Martin McAleese, concerned about rural isolation and the plight of elderly men in isolation, made an approach to the Gaelic Athletic Association to take the problem on board and, subsequently, the GAA Social Initiative Project was launched.
This was, indeed, a very laudable gesture on the part of Senator McAleese and the GAA, but should we and, in particular, our legislators, examine more deeply the root cause of such isolation and how best it can be addressed?
Personally, I, and the members of my organisation, the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association, have, over the past 15 years, been highlighting the many factors that are the cause of rural isolation: namely, lack of employment, poor broadband structure to facilitate same, restrictive planning (whereby only those with a connection to the land can make an application to build in rural areas) the erosion of the extended family, and now the closures of the institutions that have made a vital contribution to rural Ireland and, in so many cases, provided much-needed employment for those who choose to live in the countryside.
Our organisation feels that each citizen of the land should be given the legitimate right to choose their place of residence, whether it be urban or rural, and that the necessary facilities be made available to fulfil this right.
On that basis, we wholeheartedly support the campaign to retain the rural post office, and we also have made many trips to the headquarters of the Irish Parliament to articulate our concerns, and, finally, our door will always remain open to those rural organisations who may wish to join the IRDA in it’s bid to salvage what remains of rural Ireland.
Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association