As the Minister will know, there are 1,100 post offices throughout the State and reports have claimed that An Post intends to close 400 of these, in particular in rural areas. This is a frightening reality for many people in rural Ireland who are already witnessing a decline in the services offered to them.
In Mayo, just before the summer, there was great anger over the closure of an Ulster Bank branch in Ballyhaunis which came just a couple of years after the closure of the AIB branch in the same town. It was commonly remarked at that time that older people in particular were disproportionately impacted by the decisions, as many preferred to go into their branch and deal with people rather than use online banking. That is, of course, understandable, especially in the older cohort of people. They now have to travel further afield to do their day-to-day banking. The exact same thing is going to happen with the post office network and there is going to be very real distress imposed upon people if the reported closures go ahead.
The Post Office Network Business Development Group, under the chairmanship of businessman, Bobby Kerr, looked at a range of additional services that could be delivered by the Government through the existing post office network, if the Government and indeed An Post were willing. Ample measures could be taken from the report. One of the recommendations related to the introduction of the option of paying for motor taxation in post offices. I know that this matter is under deliberation and I would like to know where the Minister’s Department stands on this issue. The An Post network itself acknowledges that it provides many services for Departments and agencies but it believes that many more Government services can be provided through the post office network. Just the other day, the Irish Postmasters Union general secretary, Ned O’Hara, said:
The post office network is under huge pressure as postmasters’ incomes are falling dramatically. The IPU’s aim is to keep as many offices as possible open, to introduce new services and to develop the network’s social function within communities.
The appetite to offer new services is there, the network is well established and the infrastructure in place. I commend my Fianna Fáil Party colleague on Kerry County Council, Councillor John Lucid, who has proposed that the National Driver Licence Service be asked if driving licence renewals could be made available through the post office network. In his own county, Tralee is the only location where one can renew one’s licence. For some people that is a three-hour round journey.
As I have said, certain cohorts of people are being disenfranchised, especially the elderly community.From my own neck of the woods, Belmullet, it is at least an hour’s journey to Castlebar. From Blacksod it is a three-hour round trip. It is something that needs to happen. I urge the Minister to consider the idea of the National Driver Licence Service being located in post offices.