Cllr Frankie Keena (FF ) has called for the reinstatement of the Public Enquiry Office, previously located on Pearse Street, Athlone, which closed abruptly last summer.
The service allowed for one-to-one consultations between the public and qualified professionals regarding filling out tax and other forms.
Speaking at a meeting of Athlone Municipal District, Cllr Keena said that the office was a most valuable service where people could stroll in off the street, take a ticket and speak to someone one-to-one. He said its abrupt closure had caught people by surprise. He added that financial issues can be a strain on some people, and that the personal service offered by the public enquiry office was greatly appreciated by many.
Cllr Keena said the service has almost entirely moved online now, with few guidelines provided regarding how to fill out the forms in question. He said this is a huge inconvenience to people who are not confident when faced with issues of this nature, and that it is wrong that the service was removed with the stroke of a pen.
Independent councillor, Ailish McManus said that people can still make an appointment to see somebody from the service in person.
However, Mayor Aengus O’Rourke said the option to make an appointment is not encouraged until the last minute. He added that such a vital service should never have been fully removed, and if anything should have been scaled back to three days a week initially.
Cllr Michael O’Brien said he is tired of seeing essential services being rolled back or removed altogether, referencing banks and the Gardai as examples. He said the online service is not very straightforward, and supported the mayor’s call for it to be reopened as a walk-in service three days a week.
It was resolved to send a letter to the Minister for Finance requesting a three-day service be reinstated.