HUNDREDS of postmasters and their supporters will protest outside the Dail this evening to highlight what they say is a threat to their businesses and communities.
The Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU), which represents over 1,100 members nationwide and employs 3,000 people, is making a presentation before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications this morning where they will outline the importance of the network to rural communities.
Campaigns are being organised nationwide to highlight the threat to small communities.
The union is calling on the Government to implement a plan to secure the future of the network and to come up with ways more government business, such as hospital charges or banking services, can be routed through the post office network.
It follows a private members' motion in the Dail last night on behalf of the technical group.
IPU president Ciaran McEntee said: "Without the post office at the heart of our community, other shops and businesses will disappear and people will have to travel further to access much- needed services."
The presentation by the IPU follows a report it commissioned by Grant Thornton that claimed the future sustainability of 557 post offices was under threat with the network dependent on the revenue it generates from two main government contracts: Social Welfare and state savings.
The contract to deliver social welfare payments through the network costs the Exchequer around €60m a year.
Of this, the post office network receives €20m a year which the IPU claims is critical to the network, representing 30pc of its annual revenue.
While An Post has won the welfare payment contracts for the next two years, IPU general secretary Brian McGann said the business was being lost on a daily basis because the department was "actively forcing the business away" from the successful bidder and driving people into using bank accounts.
Mr McGann also said the union was gravely concerned about An Post's plans to form an alternative partnership with Tesco.
Meanwhile, Irish Rural Link (IRL), the national group campaigning for sustainable rural communities, has expressed disappointment at the ann- ouncement of the partnership between An Post and Tesco.
IRL's James Claffey said the formation of the partnership would lead to increased unemployment and isolation in rural areas. It is calling for the introduction of a commission to examine how policy regarding rural areas is assessed and the impact the loss of public services has at local level.