Offaly TD Barry Cowen has expressed serious concern about the threat to local post offices, following reports that hundreds of them may soon be forced to close their doors.
The Irish Postmasters Union (IPU) has warned that as many as 400 post offices in communities across the country could be put out of business when the Department of Social Protection moves to a fully electronic system of social welfare payments, Deputy Cowen said.
Deputy Cowen said the post office network must be protected and this can be achieved by allowing post offices to provide more services. “Communities in Offaly have already lost far too many local services,” he said. “Garda stations have been shut down, community hospital beds have been closed, local health services have been cut, bank branches have been shut down, small schools are under threat and many retailers have been forced to close their doors. And now another pillar of the community, the post office, is under threat.”
Deputy Cowen said advancements in technology do not have to mean sacrificing post offices. “Post offices are at the heart of our communities and are well placed to provide a range of services beyond their current responsibilities,” he said. “They are particularly important as banks move to close many smaller branches. Our post offices have stepped in to provide a service that would otherwise be lost to that community.
“No one can argue with the benefits of advancing the efficiency of processing social welfare payments. However, a post office provides much more to a community than just delivering welfare payments. It is incumbent on the government to examine the post office network in light of technological advancements, with a view to expanding its responsibilities and remit within the community.”
Deputy Cowen concluded by saying that small rural communities are built around the local school, post office, bank branch and garda station. “Removing these key amenities, particularly at a time when so many small retailers are struggling to survive, will threaten the very concept of the community as we know it,” he said.