Postmasters step up bid to prevent closures over welfare payment row

Postmasters step up bid to prevent closures over welfare payment row
Rural towns across Longford and beyond will effectively cease to exist if the Government continues to encourage people to access their social welfare payments electronically.

Rural towns across Longford and beyond will effectively cease to exist if the Government continues to encourage people to access their social welfare payments electronically.

That’s the warning which came from Granard based postmaster Padraig McNamara this week over concerns more than 500 post offices could close by 2017.

Mr McNamamra said should present policies be maintained, the future for Ireland’s post office network looks bleak.

“This will kill rural towns,” he warned.

“We have 1.7m customers coming into our offices every week and we have a network of over 1,000 outlets so we must be doing something right.”

The fallout centres on a decision taken by the Department of Social Protection to encourage more social welfare recipients to have their payments made directly into their bank accounts, rather than collecting them at the post office.

Last month it emerged around 7,000 letters were sent to recipients of the contributory and non-contributory State pension, who collect their payments at their post-office, inviting them to consider a fund-transfer into their bank accounts.

Mr McNamara, who is Vice President and Western Spokesperson of the Irish Postmasters Union (IPU), said the invite was one which would deal irrevocable damage to the network.

“Two independent reports which were put together by Grant Thornton (chartered accountants and business advisors) in relation to welfare found that by 2017, our level of business will drop to three per cent.

“At the minute we have 47 per cent of the business with welfare making up 50 per cent of post offices business.”

Besides the financial repercussions, Mr McNamara said there were potentially grave consequences for rural communities nationwide.

“If we (post offices) are not around anymore, it will hit the local butcher, the shops, the publicans because we are the hand that feeds into all of that,” he maintained.

He also had a stark warning for those in charge of implementing government policy by hitting the Coalition where it hurts the most.

“If this policy continues, we (IPU) will actively pursue the Fine Gael and Labour vote,” he said, claiming general election candidates would run in key geographical locationsa across the country.

He also revealed social welfare payments accessed at post office level had in fact saved the Government money last year.

Last week, Mr McNamara and his IPU colleagues launced a six-point plan to preserve the status quo and ahead of its annual conference in May.

He explained, “The IPU is calling for Government to intervene and bind An Post to operate the Network according to an agreed policy framework which is developed by the Oireachtas and recognises Post Offices as a National Asset.”

The IPU said this framework would include commitments on the size and geographic spread of the Network, on developing Post Offices as front offices of Government and to community based full-service Offices.

“Every customer, community and individual TD we talk with wants to sustain the Network, but until the Government takes an active role to protect them, Post Offices will continue to disappear,” he concluded.