The news this week that the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) is to prepare to ballot members over the pay cuts is the latest development in the ongoing row over the future of post offices. .
The removal of services along with the popularity of Internet banking and shopping threatens the future of the post office, which is at the heart of local communities in rural counties like Longford.
The post office has helped keep Irish people in contact with their families at home and overseas for many generations.
We now take technology pretty much for granted. There are so many ways to keep in contact and the speed of e-mail, Skype, instant messaging and texting means that the traditional letter has been largely overtaken as an everyday means of communication.
But it’s the removal of vital services that is causing the most difficulties for postmasters and postmistresses in Co Longford.
They say that if the social welfare contract is removed from the post office, “that will be the end”.
The outcome of the ballot could mean the network is disrupted by postmasters for the first time in the history of the State.
Mary Ghee has been the postmistress at Lanesboro Post Office for the last 22 years and admits the current situation “is very serious”.
“We are losing the social welfare payments and the loss of the Danske Bank meant we lost more business,” she said.
“It is very hard to get young people to do their business in the post office - they are doing all their banking and shopping online, and when you lose business, the money goes out of the area and business leaves, so everybody loses out.”
Since 1861, the Post Office has run the Post Office Savings Bank for the State.
It was set up to provide banking facilities for the majority of people who did not have bank accounts. It still works today, 150 years later.
The post office also offered various other savings and banking options for people as well. Paying bills, collecting the pension, buying foreign currency and much more could be done at the facility.
However, the removal of many of these services hasleft the smaller rural offices reeling.
“If we lose the social welfare contract, post offices will close overnight - even the post offices in the bigger towns will struggle,” Ms Ghee continued.
“Postmasters and Postmistresses will lose their livelihoods.”
Back in the day when the telephone was invented, the system was run by the post office. At first most people didn’t have telephones in their own houses so they would go to their local post office to make a telephone call.
For those who could afford to install their own telephone, an operator in the post office would be in charge of making sure the right lines and wires were connected to speak,
These days, mobile phones are to the fore, so that service, like so many others has also been discarded with - still the post office continued on, and developed with the times.
Postmistress in Ballymahon, June Dillon, admitted to the Leader that she holds “grave concerns” for the future of the post office network.
“The social welfare contract really is our livelihoods and a lot of pensions and social welfare payments are being paid directly into bank accounts now,” said Ms Dillon, who has been at the helm of the local post office for over 20 years now.
“We are losing those payments and also the business that went with that.
“All of this has had a negative impact on the overall shopping here in the town of Ballymahon.
“I am very concerned about the future, absolutely; the situation at the moment is not sustainable.”
In recent times, phone credit and AIB banking was added to the expanding services at post offices, but as technology becomes more sophisticated, the demand for these services has lessened.
“We have banking services, bill pay, phone credit with no extra charge, savings schemes - so many services here at the post office, but the social welfare being paid into the banks and bypassing the post office is the real difficulty now,” Raymond O’Boyle, Kenagh Post Office added.
“It is so handy for people, especially those who can’t drive, and the local post office saves people from having to travel to bigger towns.
“We have such a huge range of services now, but the reality is that all post offices - especially the small ones - are under pressure now.”
Editorial, page 38