LONG queues outside post offices across the country are another reminder of the times in which we live. Many of those queuing are waiting to collect their weekly unemployment or other welfare payment.
Last year half of all of those on welfare in Ireland were paid in cash at the post office. Now the Department of Social Protection, for a variety of valid reasons, wants to reduce that number to a quarter over the next four years.
But the move to electronic transfers into bank accounts poses a number of serious challenges which need to be confronted. Firstly, there is the issue of bank charges and rules about minimum balances for people on really low incomes.
A single person getting €188 per week in unemployment benefit is not of great interest to the banks. And all the evidence suggests that person would far prefer to deal only in cash.
Secondly, the post office is a valuable local resource to many communities and many of these offices depend on revenue from handling welfare to stay open. The answer may well lie in the post offices -- for generations the poor person's bank - gearing up to provide enhanced services at an affordable price to welfare recipients.
Such a development could allow the Department of Social Protection achieve greater efficiencies, support the local post office, and ensure a fair deal for welfare recipients.