Healy-Rae draws up list of 'red-line' demands
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has drawn up a list of "red line" demands regarding the country's post offices in a move that has upped the stakes in the government formation talks.
Mr Healy-Rae's so-called 'dossier' was presented to Fine Gael negotiators following extensive discussions with postmasters, including former executive member of the Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) Tom O'Callaghan.
The Kerry deputy, who is himself a postmaster, has put forward a series of demands that he says must be agreed to in order for him to support either a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael-led minority government.
- A guarantee that An Post's lucrative social welfare contract will remain in place for five years;
- The development of a post office banking system;
- A specific targeting of the post office network through the Government's procurement procedures;
- A moratorium on downward revisions of postmaster salaries for a period of five years.
Mr Healy-Rae's document has been circulated to Fine Gael's negotiating team ahead of further talks next week.
The proposals will also be distributed to Fianna Fáil.
But the list of demands has raised the prospect of the first major side deal of the talks to date. Such deals have proven controversial in the past, and have been likened to auction-style politics. But last night, Mr Healy-Rae insisted that ensuring the survival of the post office network is his "number one priority" during these talks.
"I cannot, and will not, see these businesses deteriorate," he told the Irish Independent.
"This is absolutely a red-line issue for me," he added.
The future of the network has been a major talking point in rural Ireland since a report by Grant Thornton predicted that half of the country's post offices are facing wipe-out.
Mr Healy-Rae's document also calls for the introduction of a "stay" on the roll-out of so-called 'Post and Pay' services by An Post, which have been a major bone of contention for postmasters.
These facilities see untrained staff, not bound by official secrets legislation, providing similar services to post offices in supermarket stores around Ireland.
And the document proposes extending the contract between postmasters and An Post from five years to 15.
"Five-year contracts are too short to allow for return on capital investments, to open a modern office or to attract further investment," the document says.
"New contracts must be for a minimum of 15 years to allow return on capital investment by postmasters," it adds.
Both main parties have to date said they intend to introduce greater banking facilities in post offices and implement measures contained in a major report led by businessman Bobby Kerr.