Now Spar, Mace want to offer postal services
THE future of the post office network has been dealt a serious blow after it emerged that Ireland's second largest wholesale network is planning to provide postal services in its stores.
BWG foods, which operates franchises such as Spar and Mace, has entered negotiations with An Post with the view to opening dozens of so-called 'Post and Pay' outlets.
These outlets provide services such as the payment of bills, sending letters and mobile phone and stamp purchases.
The Irish Independent revealed in March that An Post had struck a deal with Tesco in a move that opponents warned would "cannibalise" the network.
Now it's emerged that BWG has entered negotiations with An Post which could see 'Post and Pay' outlets being opened in Spar, Eurospar and Mace stores.
Postmasters last night described the move by An Post as "deeply worrying", while Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said it could be the "final nail in the coffin" for rural post offices.
This newspaper understands that An Post would allow such outlets to be opened within a 1.5km distance from post offices in certain circumstances.
This would mean that customers would be less inclined to support their post office "at a time when they need the support most," a source explained.
Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) president Ciaran McEntee last month said he was "disappointed" with the establishment of such outlets in supermarkets, which have raised fears that community post offices are being sidelined.
Mr McEntee called on the Government not to allow any more of these to be established after an initial pilot programme was agreed with Tesco.
Mr Healy Rae, who is a TD for Kerry South, called on the Government to halt the spread of Post and Pay outlets.
"The fact that we will see these outlets being opened 1.5km from post offices will prove absolutely devastating," he said.
"I would say to both the Government and An Post – where is your loyalty? Rural postmasters are absolutely terrified for the future of their businesses and livelihoods."
The news of the BWG's interest in such a venture comes as a Department of Communications sub-committee continues to examine the future of the post office network.
Postmasters are particularly concerned about plans to slash their salaries by up to 13pc.
The payments are connected with the social welfare contract, which was secured by An Post last year following a competitive tendering process.
Many postmasters are paid in the region of €20,000-€30,000 per annum for administering social welfare payments.