Fine Gael TD for Donegal, Joe McHugh, today (Friday) welcomed the announcement of the establishment of a cross-departmental group to assess how the State can play a role in securing the future of our Post Offices. This would be achieved by encouraging all departments to consider the potential of the Post Offices to assist in the service they deliver.
“There is no doubt that the postal service in Ireland plays a vital role in communities, and that this role is magnified in rural communities. The local post office is more often than not located at the heart of local towns and villages, oftentimes acting as a social outlet for those who are in more isolated areas, people like farmers or the elderly.
“This Government is committed to the long-term viability of An Post and figures I had requested from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources highlight how this commitment has translated in real terms. Over the last three years, there have been 17 post office closures while in 2010 alone, 72 Post Offices closed their doors. Any closures are regrettable and we are doing our very best to avoid them, but we must accept that there is a very serious issue facing postal services throughout Ireland.
“While we must acknowledge that as communication is ever-changing and the mediums by which we connect evolve, the Post Office as we know it is not fit for purpose. It is essential that they adapt in order to continue to fulfil a sustainable role in society.
“There are a number of actions which could be taken to add strength to the role of Post Offices throughout Ireland. For example, Bank of Ireland’s UK entity has been an exclusive partner to the Post Office in the UK and has been providing financial services and products to customers since 2003. This partnership has, according to the bank ‘become one of the UK’s fastest growing financial service providers with almost three million customers and a savings book of £18 billion and the leading supplier of foreign exchange in the marketplace”.
“There is no reason why something similar couldn’t work here in Ireland. I understand that some of these financial services and transactions can be complex and there are legacy issues regarding trust in banks that the UK is not facing. However we need to explore these avenues which are having very positive effects on the UK Postal service to see if they can be tailored to suit the Irish market. An alliance between Post Offices and customer banking/ financial services has the real potential to strengthen the offerings of Post Offices around the country.
“Another possibility could involve Post Offices taking responsibility for all driver license issuing. In Co. Donegal, for example, many people are finding it difficult to renew their driver’s licenses as they now have to travel to Letterkenny or Donegal Town, since the cross over to the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) came into effect. This service could be offered through a local Post Office, saving people time and money while increasing the responsibility of the postal service.
“I have been working closely with An Post and my colleagues on the ground, meeting with Postmasters from around Co. Donegal to further this project. I very strongly welcome the Government’s announcement that there is to be a cross-departmental group established.
“I think it is important to highlight that it is not in anyone’s interest to see Post Offices closing down. The Government has repeated its commitment to ensuring the viability of as many Post Offices as possible. The Postmasters in local offices have long played a vital role in the community and we want to ensure that this tradition continues into the future, while adapting to changes in communication.”