But as the meeting concluded Deputy Joe McHugh was challenged about supporting next week’s Dail motion for keeping these offices open, the Tirconail Tribune reports.
“What way will you be voting: will you be backing us?” asked one of the postmasters in attendance.
“No,” said McHugh, “I will be voting against the motion and supporting the Government,” and this comment was met with dismay.
The services at Carrigart and Downings along with the three post offices in Fanad at Rossnakill, Cashel and Ballylar are among those in the queue for closure in the next eighteen months.
If these closures go ahead the communities in Rosgull and Fanad, in many instances will be forced to travel twelve miles to either Milford or Kerrykeel.
But inevitably the Govt TD’s will work hard to have any talk of the closures long-fingered until the elections are over.
The political life of the Milford area came out in force and these speakers were in sparkling form at the Carrigart Hotel as they put their shoulders to the wheel backing the public campaign in a highly verbal manner that left no doubt whatever on the floor of the hall that the first shots were being fired in the local elections battle.
There was much backing, good intentions and positive vibes on the night as the community initiative moves on to a more political plane of debate. And to this end, as the meeting concluded, a postmistress challenged Deputy Joe McHugh if he would vote in the Dail in support of the Postmasters motion on February 26th. ” No… I will be voting with the government and whatever lobbying I can engage within the party, I can do nothing if outside the party,” said McHugh.
The meeting in Carrigart was called after the recent Postmasters Union warning that many of the small rural post office network will disappear unless urgent action is taken to save them.
The Carrigart meeting heard public and community concerns about the disappearance of village life in its former format. There are now villages without shops: post offices: bank branches: Garda stations or much else and its as if the greater body politic has passed them by on the way to Leinster House and did not have time to notice the ‘state of chassis’ in the Donegal countryside.
It is unlikely many improved services will come to our rural areas that have no public lighting, no footpaths, no sewerage services.
There are areas that do not have public water supplies and some have extremely poor roads, the meeting was told.
As the politicians made their remarks, a former Garda in Carrigart, Benny Kelly looked on…totally bemused. And when he took the microphone he made a rather telling contribution. He said that perhaps it is time to boycott the local elections because the politicians have failed the electorate.
He said that it was unfortunate that the community should have to gather in a meeting to listen to these politicians.
“We had a previous government that bankrupted the country and now we have another one doing exactly the same. We have a government in Dublin that couldn’t cares less about us and some day soon, Donegal will be sold off to some Arab,” he added to much acclaim.
Donal Cullen and John O’Donnell, both bidding for seats on the Council were also critical of the political failures that have created these kind of problems.
The other speakers included, John Sweeney, former postmaster at Carrigart: Tina Loughrey and Joan Ward, Postmasters: Cllrs. Noel McBride: Liam Blaney: Ian McGarvey: Ciaran Brogan and Deputy Joe McHugh. The proceedings were chaired by Joe Cullen.
A public petition for the retention of the offices has begun this week and the community will travel to Dublin on February 26th as part of a nationwide protest outside the Dail. There are deep concerns about the future of every rural post office in Donegal says the IPU. There are complaints that all they are getting is lip service from the politicians until the local elections are over: and then the closures will be back on the agenda.
The Postmasters Union points to the new departure by An Post to create a different services network outside of the company. This, they say includes services at Tesco stores, Supervalu and Green Apple filling stations. This service is called ‘Post & Pay’ and is having a serious impact on revenue in post offices. It has also emerged that the Social Welfare Contract, which is An Post’s big earner, could disappear within two year, say the postmasters. This contract believed to worth around EURO 50 million to An Post only sees EURO 20 million going into the actual network and now the Dept of Social Welfare is about to seek a reduction in the cost of this contract.
At the same time many in receipt of social welfare are using the banks since An Post has not allowed many of it’s smaller offices to process the banking arrangements. An ESRI report has already highlighted the problem of financial exclusion with estimates that there are more than 300,000 households in Ireland without access to a bank account.
The Union also warned that any move to remove social welfare payments from the post office network could lead to the immediate closure of 600 of the company’s 1150 branches operated by self-employed postmasters. Such a development would have a catastrophic effect on rural Ireland the Union pointed out. “Not only would post offices disappear but many shops in towns and villages would disappear too,” said general secretary, Brian McGann.
While the Dail will debate the post office threats next week, the issue has already come up for debate at the end of January. Deputy Willie Penrose raised the matter with Junior Minister, Fergus O’Dowd and he said: “The programme for Government contains a specific commitment in respect of ensuring the sustainability of the post office network, which is a national and strategic asset.
Commitments are easy to write and verbalise and they can easily morph into aspirations. To put flesh on the bones of the commitment to which I refer, there is a need for the Government to produce a comprehensive plan of action in respect of this matter. A whole-of-Government approach will be required in this regard, with each Department being obliged to have an input or make a submission. When this process is complete, the Government would formulate a cohesive plan of action and produce a report within six months or so. This matter cannot be placed on the long finger.
A report must be produced, action must be taken and results delivered.
All Departments should be obliged to identify new business opportunities they intend to pursue or existing businesses with which they are involved, the services relating to which could easily be provided by means of the post office network,” he added.
In fact, said a number of postmasters the current policy of An Post to close post offices is already Government policy and it is not going to be changed. The Irish Postmasters Union has warned its members that the future of post offices is under the most serious threat it has faced in recent years.
The Union has pointed to the loss of revenue as a consequence of government failure to honour their commitment as laid down in the programme for Government to retain the network. The commitment says the Union included plans to increase footfall at these offices but the opposite has happened. An Post has completed the installation of post boxes outside of offices amid complaints that this decision has reduced drastically the numbers of people using the network to purchase stamps and other services that are available in the post office.
A spokeswoman for the Union told the Tribune: “Following the awarding of the welfare contract, An Post has tabled a proposal to reduce the rate paid for unemployment. This reduction, amounting to €4.6 million could result in the loss of up to 10% of their postmasters income.”
The Postmasters Union has secured an agreement with Deputies Seamus Healy and John Halligan to put down a private member’s motion in the Dail to be debated on next Tuesday and Wednesday. Large numbers from around the country are expected to be outside Leinster House to lend their support to the campaign. However that motion will be hammered with support coming only from FF: SF and a number of Independent TD’s.