The decision by the Department of Social Protection and Minister Joan Burton to award An Post another contract to provide over the counter cash transactions has generated a warning from Vincent Harney, a Westmeath postmaster leader, that this does not remove the serious threat to the long-term future of many post offices in Westmeath.
Mr Harney, from Cornafulla Post Office in Athlone, who is a member of the National Executive of the IPU, welcomed the announcement and said it was heartening to postmasters, their staff, and the 1.7 million customers who use post offices every week, that the contract had been renewed for a further two years with a possible extension beyond that.
“While we welcome the announcement as highly important for the post office network in the immediate future, serious danger lurks: the network could be devastated by current Government policy.
“Let nobody be under any illusions - the post office network has not been made safe by this contract. Another tender is to be issued soon that could spell the death-knell to some 400 post office throughout the country, many of them in Westmeath.”
Mr Harney went on to say that the income of a post office is based on each transaction it processes. “If the Government presses ahead with its drive for all social welfare payments to be delivered electronically that income will be devastated,” he added. The social welfare contract accounts for some 35 per cent of post office business and if this is lost it will be catastrophic for the network and communities both urban and rural.
“All our offices are fully automated and we embrace technology enthusiastically. But we also support consumer choice. And there are serious consequences if this policy is implemented,” he said.
Minister Bruton has confirmed plans for a new electronic payments method to be implemented by the end of 2014.
Mr Harney believes that within a few years communities who depend on their post office for saving money, paying bills, buying postal orders and stamps, obtaining dollars or sterling (commission free ), using Passport Express, and paying Garda fines, plus many other services, will have to travel long distances to obtain services.