An Post to compete for welfare deal worth €57m
A small but important change in social welfare legislation could "spell the beginning of the end for the post office network", the Government has been warned.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton defended the decision to take the term "An Post" out of a new draft law governing the payment of social welfare and use the term "payment service provider" instead.
Ms Burton said An Post last year won a competition for a two-year social welfare payment contract, with an option to renew for four further years.
But she insisted the new Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2014 cannot include the term "An Post" because it would raise suspicions that EU rules were being broken to favour the post office network in competing for the contract which in 2013 was worth €57m.
Ms Burton acknowledged that An Post had a great economic, commercial and social importance – but it would have to continue competing for the social welfare contract.
Representatives from several parties including Willie O'Dea of Fianna Fail, Aengus O Snodaigh of Sinn Fein, and independents Denis Naughten and Joan Collins, said they were very concerned that this significant change was a further signal that An Post's viability could be jeopardised.
"It appears to undermine government assurances about the future of the post office network. It could spell the beginning of the end," Deputy O'Dea told the Irish Independent.
Minister Burton said that the role of An Post was elaborated in great detail in regulations underpinning the administration. She said she was confident the post office network is well placed to compete successfully for the contract.
Deputy Joan Collins, a former post office clerk, said a large number of Irish people did not have access to the internet nor did they have a bank account.
SF's Aengus O Snodaigh said the post office had a special community role. "The post office is not the Bank of Ireland, it isn't Rabobank," he said.