Fresh fears hundreds of post offices could close
THERE are fresh fears for 500 post offices countrywide after An Post revealed it is in talks about opening so-called 'post points' in two major supermarket chains.
Senior bosses at the semi-state company have revealed that they are holding talks with Dunnes Stores and SuperValu, prompting claims that the network will be "cannibalised".
Postmasters say the rural post office network will be decimated within two years – even though An Post insists that it has no plan to shut stores.
An Post has already agreed a deal with Tesco for a network of 'post points'. These will employ staff who are not garda-vetted or bound by the Official Secrets Act, and are on a lower wage.
The outlets offer similar services to post offices – such as paying bills, sending letters, topping up mobile phones and buying stamps.
The key exception will be social welfare payments, which will mostly be paid direct to bank accounts.
The Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU) last night said the revelations would add to the "real fears" surrounding the future of the post office network.
There are concerns that the post points will eventually replace post offices – with significant impact on rural and elderly residents.
"An Post appears more concerned with developing an alternative network with the retail sector," said IPU general secretary Brian McGann.
"We have been left with no greater assurances that post offices won't be replaced by these outlets over time. People have a genuine fear about the future of their post offices."
An Post sales and marketing director Liam Sheehan rejected claims that the partnerships would destroy post offices, particularly those located in rural Ireland.
"If we find that it is cannibalising existing businesses, there will be no point in having it," he said.
"The whole point of this is that it generates extra revenue and extra profit for the organisation," he told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.
Mr Sheehan said the outlets would initially be launched on a trial basis in 10 locations and that this would then be followed by a review of the overall partnership system.
The appearance before the committee yesterday of Mr Sheehan and An Post's retail operations director John Daly came after around 1,000 people had protested about potential post office closures last month.
However, the two men insisted that there were no plans to shut down post offices.
"An Post does not have a plan or proposal to close post offices. Nor is it part of our business strategy that we allow post offices to close by stealth. In fact, the opposite is actually true," Mr Daly said.
"If we don't go into these retailers, the competition will grow against us," he added.
However, union officials fear the new post points could ultimately begin to replace the community post office network. According to An Post's own figures, 7pc of homes are already located more than 5km away from a post office.
While An Post claims that it needs to compete with commercial retailers, opposition TDs have emphasised the value of the post office in rural communities.
Several TDs last night insisted that the plans to create further partnerships with supermarkets would put post offices at risk.
Fianna Fail's communications spokesman Michael Moynihan said: "A dog on the street will realise that if you are going to proceed with the Tesco (post points) and the trials, it is going to cannibalise them, it is going to lead down those roads."
Waterford TD Paudie Coffey said he believed that a roll-out of the post points would create a "real risk of displacement or undermining of the existing networks", while, Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan raised the prospect of setting up an amber warning system to alert communities of post offices at risk and encourage customer use.
Eamon Timmins of Age Action Ireland said that many older people did not drive, and not everyone had a bank account.