Suggestions that post offices could be reorganised into mini garda branches is garnering some support in Ballinalee village, according to local Postmaster and County Coucillor Micheal Carrigy.
Earlier this year, Ballinalee Garda Station shut its doors for the final time alongside 94 others as part of cost cutting measures announced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
Around eight weeks on from that decision, the Leader has learned locals have been meeting gardai in a disused credit union building in the village twice a week as a stopgap measure.
The building, owned by Cllr Carrigy, has already attracted sizeable numbers, according to the Fine Gael representative.
“We cleaned it up and at the minute it’s open on Mondays from 4 to 6pm and on Thursdays from 1 to 3pm. It’s being done on the basis of a three month trial when it will be reviewed again but so far so good. Even yesterday (Thursday), there were four or five people calling in with different issues,” said Cllr Carrigy.
In February, villagers took the unusual step of submitting a proposal to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s office, offering to foot the station’s utility costs and other overheads.
While those attempts look to have fallen on deaf ears, fresh proposals have come to light as part of ongoing attempts to also preserve the long term future of Ireland’s struggling post office network.
One alternative, put forward in a report from a cross-party Oireachtas committee, hinted at possibly asking post office staff to undertake basic garda administration duties to raise additional revenue and prevent future closures.
For rural post offices like those in Ballinalee, the idea is one Cllr Carrigy has given much credit to.
“Things like passport express, that has to be signed by a garda before being passed. If it was the case where we (post offices) could witness them being signed it would be a big help. We already do parking and speeding fines so why not? We have the technology and personnel there to carry out this type of paperwork,” he said.
One of the chief motives behind the report centres on the future of around 400 post offices, many of which are threatened with immediate closure if An Post fails to secure a contract to process social welfare payments.