Monday 23 September 2019

Hundreds of rural post offices saved with €30m lifeline

Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Hundreds of rural post offices are to be handed a lifeline by the end of the year through a special €30m fund, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The plan will secure a five-day postal service to every address in the country, but also comes with an expectation that An Post will rapidly diversify into online activity.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten will today seek approval for the one-off spend from Cabinet colleagues.

"Doing nothing is not an option any more. This is a big moment for the post office network," said a source.

An undefined number of post offices will still close but it will be significantly less than the 400 that postmasters have predicted.

An Post is planning a series of closures based on the number of staff who decide to take up an exit package.

It is anticipated that a "network consolidation" will also take place in some rural parts of the country.

However, it is understood the memo being brought to Cabinet by Mr Naughten today will commit the Government to protecting rural mail services through the funding.

This will ensure the continuation of a postal service five days a week.

"Every address in the country will still get a daily service. This is hugely significant for rural communities," a source said.

If the minister's plan is approved, in the region of €30m will be available for draw down within weeks. It is understood the State funding will be subject to "stringent conditions".

An Post is facing a major financial crisis, with more than half of post offices making a loss. In September, company bosses had said between 160 and 360 post offices will close over the next four years - but postmasters claimed this figure would be closer to 400.

Unions have refused to co-operate with the rollout of a new An Post 'Smart Account' debit card in protest at the uncertainty about the future of the network.

Last year, when presented with the severe financial difficulties at An Post, Mr Naughten repealed the price cap which was a short-term measure that enabled An Post to increase the price of a stamp. The cost of posting a letter was raised to €1.

It is anticipated as part of An Post's modernisation plan that it will enhance its online services and products particularly in the financial and parcels business.

Irish Independent

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