An Post talks collapse amid postmaster payment dispute
Talks between An Post and postmasters on the future of the network and the operation of a new current account have broken down amid a dispute over payments.
The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) has told Government and An Post that its members will not co-operate with the roll-out of the new Smart Account.
However, some IPU members are defying the union, as 200 post offices have signed up to operate it already.
A message sent to members of the postmasters' union states: "The national executive has decided to withdraw from the current negotiations with An Post because there appears to be no prospect of agreement at present.
"The union has advised the Government and An Post that it will not be in a position to co-operate with the roll-out of the An Post Smart Account."
Communications Minister Denis Naughten appointed senior counsel Turlough O'Donnell to agree a strategy for the future of the network through talks between the postmasters, An Post management and his officials.
Postmasters are still talking to the Government, but claim there has been no progress from the Government side and are planning a protest outside Mr Naughten's office tomorrow.
They say they will not agree to roll out the new account until An Post management agrees to its demands on how postmasters are paid.
The Smart account is aimed at offering an electronic payment option to the 1.7 million customers who use the post office network each week.
General secretary of the IPU Ned O'Hara claimed An Post and Mr Naughten's officials were not engaging in the talks.
His members had hoped the talks would produce a shared vision on the future of the post office network.
He claimed An Post boss David McRedmond could end up closing down 700 post offices, as many were not considered commercially viable. "We are not getting proper engagement from the Government. We are opposed to any closures unless postmasters themselves can't make a living," he said.
He denied the main stumbling block was agreeing exit payments for retiring postmasters,
Mr O'Hara disputed claims his members were signing up to operate the Smart Account, despite the union telling its members not to co-operate.
A spokeswoman for Mr Naughten said department officials were not engaged in the talks process. She pointed out that the minister had appointed the barrister to facilitate talks.
The minster had met IPU officials on several occasions, and executives from An Post, she said. An Post said it looked forward to the resumption of the talks in the autumn. The new Smart account is a key attempt to ensure the survival of the post office network.
The dispute comes as there are fears that up to 500 post offices could be forced to close as they are losing money, with consumers increasingly using electronic forms of payment.
The Smart account is aimed at offering an alternative to the situation where people getting social welfare payments, such as child benefit, are increasingly having the money transferred straight to a bank account.
An Post lost €15.6m last year.
The new account will be a direct challenge to the banks.
Account holders will get a debit card, which can be used across the MasterCard network.