independent

Sunday 23 July 2017

Post office closures making a mockery of Kenny's pledge to rural Ireland

Opinion

Our View

Another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland is a well worn phrase we frequently hear trotted out by politicians whenever the latest round of cuts and closures are announced.

It's a line repeated so often it has lost almost all meaning but in the case of An Post, and the current proposals to shut up to 200 post offices, it is - for once - fully justified.

Last week it emerged that the cash strapped postal service is facing such crippling losses that management had been advised by business luminary Bobby Kerr - of Dragon's Den fame - to close 80 of its roughly 1,150 post offices.

That was greeted with dismay across rural Ireland but worse was to come and, on Monday, it emerged that some 200 post offices - one in six of the total - are facing the axe if something can't be done to help An Post.

About €58million is needed to support the post office network for the next four years and, at the moment, the Government appears unwilling to step in and lend a hand.

No doubt the Government is wary of setting a precedent by opening its wallet and inviting a rush of pleas for support from other state and semi state bodies, like Bus Éireann for example.

That is, in some ways, understandable and one can see why a Government would be loathe to step in and bail out a body whose business model and indeed reason to be - in this Internet age - is seen by many as obsolete.

As in the case of Bus Éireann there are commercial and market realities at play here. However, An Post is a different matter and much more needs to be done to safeguard its future.

An Post is far more than a business, it is focal point of thousands of small communities and it provides vital day to day services that its competitors can't or wont.

Services like paying out pensions or welfare payments aren't profit drivers but they are not supposed to be. They are vital services that many in isolated rural areas can't live without.

It's well and good to suggest that a local Post Office can be shuttered and its services moved to the next village but that fails to grasp the realities of life in rural Ireland.

Rural transport services have been cut to the bone and many people - not just the old or infirm - can barely get to their own village, never-mind the next town.

What are they to do if their post office is shut? It mightn't be as big a problem in larger cities but try it in rural Wexford, Kerry or Sligo for example.

In many cases these people - their communities ravaged by emigration - have already lost their local garda stations, bus services, doctors and shops. Is it any wonder they are sick to death of spin doctors' claims about how important rural Ireland is to the Government.

Rural Ireland wants to see actual action not just another flashy, spin filled and ultimately empty 'Action Plan'.

If Fine Gael want to avoid another Election Day thrashing, helping An Post would be a good place to start. A €58million bailout is obviously impossible but surely something can be done.

Corkman

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