Topical issues debate – consultation times re post office

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Dáil Éireann 13 February 2014

The inadequate consultation period in relation to the closure of rural post offices, with specific reference to Barnaderg Post Office, Tuam, County Galway

Rural post offices are a vital piece of community infrastructure in areas all across Ireland.  I believe that the economic downturn has seen their importance increase rather than decrease, given the number of small businesses in rural areas that have been forced to close.

The need for extended consultation times in which the public can make known their views on the local post office was recently brought home to me with the on-going consultation with the local community in relation to Barnadearg Post Office, near Tuam, Co. Galway.

In the case of Barnadearg Post Office, the previous owner sadly passed away and while a family member is willing to keep the post office operational, the recent family bereavement hampered the efforts of the local community to make their views on the subject known.  I know that authorities from An Post are meeting with local representatives tomorrow, but I believe that it is imperative, given the important place that the post office plays in our local communities that the consultation period is extended – at least quadrupled – especially in cases where the future of a post office has been thrown into doubt following the sad death of a post master or post mistress.

The length of the consultation period is something which An Post must change and it is a matter which can be changed easily by the organisation.

The Grant Thornton Report on the future of post offices published in April 2012 demonstrated that social welfare and National Treasury Management Agency savings contracts account for 56% of total revenues and that is why I believe that the Government has a very strong stake in ensuring that a proper network of local post offices is maintained.

Given falling revenues in recent years, due mainly to a switch away from traditional mail services, there is pressure on the post office network system and in particular on the smaller post offices which service rural areas. The Grant Thornton report showed that the small sub offices, which account for just under half of all offices, account for 11 % of all revenue.

Towns and villages all across Ireland have seen the closure and withdrawal of local bank branches, leaving the post office as the only facility that offers banking transactions and financial services. The security offered by the local post office is something that needs to be borne in mind when all of these decisions are being made.

Rural post offices must be retained as a point of community contact with a range of agencies. Post offices such as Barnadearg are vital cogs in the wheels of rural areas.

However, it is also imperative that if a consultation is ongoing in relation to the future of a particular post office that a community is properly appraised of this fact and given an extended opportunity to meet and engage with the consultation process.

A consultation process which is too short is only paying lip service to the idea of consultation and is of little or no value to any of the parties involved.

I firmly believe that the post office in Barnadearg should be retained and hope that that is the conclusion reached by An Post officials after their meeting with local representatives tomorrow. However, in this case a lesson should be learned from the particular case and applied generally. Consultation periods must be extended and communities must be allowed to have their say on the future of their local post office.