RADICAL moves by the normally conservative Irish Postmasters’ Union to field candidates in the general election has sent a salvo across Coalition bows in a battle to save rural Ireland where the fabric of society is being systematically dismantled by the policies of an administration out-of-touch with the harsh realities of life for most people.
Given their deep involvement in the community life of areas where the postmaster or mistress know customers by their first names, there is every likelihood that candidates running for the IPU could dent if not seriously damage the re-election hopes of outgoing Coalition TDs.
This applies particularly in marginal constituencies which will now be targeted by the disgruntled post office owners. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Yesterday’s overwhelming support for the vote at the annual meeting of the union in Kilkenny reflects mounting community anger as the policies of state agencies and other businesses continue to tear the heart out of rural areas.
Employing over 3,500 people, many of them fear they will be forced out of business because of the Coalition has failed to deliver on promises given four years ago to ensure that as many services as possible would be handled by post offices.
With rural branches closing down and the Government making virtually all social protection payments electronically by 2018, the future looks bleak.
No wonder Communications Minister Alex White faced a sceptical audience who no longer believe Coalition promises of support for the network.
Appealing to customers to switch their accounts from banks to post offices, they claim the heart of local communities is being closed down as Ireland becoming a country of shopping centres concentrated on the fringes of large urban areas.
It is no exaggeration to say the social fabric of rural Ireland has been devastated. Already, hundreds of Garda stations have been closed down, leaving people in isolated areas fearful for their safety.
In a single day, the closure of 95 Garda stations was ordered by former justice minister Alan Shatter.
At the same time, the closure of several outlying bank branches has dealt a severe blow to the local economy, forcing customers to travel long distances to lodge money and carry out other business.
There have been street protests over the decision of local authorities to close down branch libraries, a cultural and intellectual heartbeat for generations of people.
Financial cuts have been blamed for this regressive move. Meanwhile scores of local pubs, shops and other businesses relying on the custom of country people have also gone to the wall.
So many young were forced to emigrate for work that some parishes could not field GAA teams, although some are now returning.
There could hardly be a better time for the owners of over 1,000 post offices in towns and villages up and down the country to enter the political fray.
The decision comes as Fine Gael and Labour face the prospect of more independents running in rural constituencies and with a burgeoning Sinn Féin and a re-oriented Fianna Fáil snapping at their heels.
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