Struggling post offices could be mini garda stations
Post offices could be transformed into mini garda bureaux under new proposals to save the country's struggling network.
Workers in Ireland's 1,150 post offices could carry out basic police administration in a bid to raise more revenue and prevent future closures.
This was one consideration in a report from a cross-party Oireachtas committee, which made a string of recommendations to make post offices more sustainable.
Sinn Fein's Michael Colreavy insisted the measures would require no additional costs – just a new mind-set. "Most of the proposals in this report require not additional funding, but a different way of thinking – a different range of services to be made available at the local post office," said Mr Colreavy, who sits on the committee.
The report suggested following a model due to be piloted in the UK, in which its post office network is in talks with 10 police forces about providing limited services from acting as a lost property desk to taking petty crime reports.
The committee report urged the Government to consider that idea, but also to use post offices for processing motor tax renewals, hospital charges, water charges, property tax, business rates, rents and other public payment services.
Around 400 post offices are threatened with immediate closure if An Post fails to secure a contract to process social welfare payments – the contract is currently out to tender.
The Irish Postmasters' Union welcomed the recommendations but said it was concerned the report would just gather dust and not result in direct government action.
Other recommendations in the report, 'Promoting a Sustainable Future for the Post Office Network', include the introduction of an amber light warning system that gives communities notice that their branch might be vulnerable to closure.
Elsewhere, committee chairman and Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said post offices were vital particularly in rural areas where elderly people are in danger of becoming isolated.
"For many people the post office is the first port of call when an individual seeks to engage with one of the various organs of the state," he said.
Meanwhile, the Aer Lingus chief executive has been appointed chairman of An Post.
Christoph Mueller was asked to take on the role by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.
"The company will benefit from the strategic leadership approach that Christoph Mueller has brought to Aer Lingus," Mr Rabbitte said.