Editorial: Do not strip rural Ireland of its post office lifeline
The prospect of 557 post offices closing their doors is truly an 'appalling vista' for rural, and indeed parts of urban, Ireland.
Nor is this an idle threat. The respected consultancy firm Grant Thornton has predicted that should the Post Office lose the contract to pay out pensions, dole and children's allowances for the Department of Social Protection, or should the payments system go 'online', the end result will be another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland.
In recent years many towns and villages have been decimated by the loss of the garda station, the post office and emigration. In more extreme cases, the pub and the local shop have closed their doors, victims of emigration and changing consumer habits. In larger towns, the bank branch has closed down and in some cases it is a struggle even to hold on to an ATM.
Of course, one could argue that we live in a world where market forces decide such matters. It is the survival of the fittest.
To a certain extent, this is the reality of life in the 21st Century. But it isn't quite as cut and dried as that. The Government and state agencies also have a social responsibility towards the entire country. While we need to continue to plough investment and capital expenditure into the larger urban areas, we cannot simply ignore whole swathes of the countryside.
The general secretary of the Irish Postmasters' Union, Brian McGann, has said that immediate government action is now needed to ensure the viability of the Post Office.
Indeed, Grant Thornton, in its report, has concluded that additional business, such as motor tax renewals, could be re-routed through the post office, not only helping to save that network but also saving the exchequer millions.
Rural Ireland needs as many post offices as can probably be kept viable.
Although there is room for improvement, Ireland has many beautiful villages and towns. Unfortunately, these are often denuded of people and enterprise. Visitors to historic sites find there isn't even a pub or a coffee shop open. Public transport services are often sporadic and the knock-on effect of it all is that young people grow up believing that there is no future in rural Ireland and that they have to move, whether it is to Sligo or Sydney, Belfast or Boston.
It is really time that a proper strategy was drawn up by state agencies to look at the future of rural Ireland, its villages and towns. The Post Office is only part of that consideration, but a most important and vital part, in that it still keeps many people in touch with the wider world.