Post offices fear closure without help from State
A collapse of the country's post office network is imminent with 500 postmasters fearing they will have to shut their businesses unless the Government invests in the industry.
A reduction in the network's main contract to cash social welfare payments and inaction by government are being blamed for putting almost half of the country's post offices at risk.
The Government will be told this week that immediate investment is needed to make running post offices sustainable.
It will also hear recommendations aimed at protecting postmasters. However, the Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) insists that urgency is needed to address issues around maintaining the post office network.
A submission before an Oireachtas Committee hearing this Wednesday highlights a series of recommendations that it says need to be approved before Christmas to ensure post office owners have a viable future.
The Government will be urged to allow post offices to become community-based providers of all State services, increased financial services and community services. Under these proposals post offices would become the face of all government services.
The 'State at your Doorstep' programme outlined by the IPU would see post offices become a one-stop-shop for payment, application, identity verification and advice for government services.
It says a failure to adapt the network means postmasters will see their business as unmanageable because of the fact they are paid based on the number of transactions they carry out. IPU executive member Seamus O Luing said this will shut 500 post offices. "Within a period of about five years you are looking at the closure of about 500 post offices. What will happen is they won't be viable so people will close. Essentially, we are the last light in a lot of communities and if you take that away, it will mean the end of community life in many areas. The payments that go through the post office into the community, that tends to stay in the locality and get spent in the community which has a huge impact in the communities we serve."
Postmasters have been hit by a reduction to the number of social welfare recipients cashing cheques in post offices as they move towards e-payments.
This is despite Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar issuing a directive aimed at preventing welfare recipients moving away from post offices.
To counteract this, the IPU will tell the Oireachtas Rural Affairs committee that postmasters should be made peace commissioners, for identification purposes when applying for passports and official documents.
It also said motor tax payments, hospital bills, CAO applications, as well as the payments of fines and licences could also be managed by post offices to save money for the State.