Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea has expressed grave concerns about the future of the Post Office network. It follows changes to the new Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, which removes An Post as the designated payment service provider for social welfare benefits. The term “An Post” is being substituted for “payment service provider”, raising fears about the viability of the network.
Deputy O’Dea commented, “Over the past few months fears over mass Post Office closures have been mounting and this latest move by the Minister to remove its status from the new Social Welfare legislation will do nothing to allay those concerns. This decision could pose a major threat to An Post’s viability as it faces continued economic challenges.
“Post Offices play an invaluable role at the heart of communities across the country. They provide much more than financial and postal services, they’re a meeting place for locals and provide essential information and a link to the outside world for many, especially to those living in rural areas.
“The Post Office network is extremely dependent on Government contracts, with almost 60% of total revenue coming from the Department of Social Protection and the National Treasury Management Agency. The loss of either of these contracts would dramatically undermine the current revenue structure of An Post and would put the long term sustainability of the network in doubt. The removal of the An Post name from the Social Welfare Bill makes that threat all the more real. This move follows the Department’s decision to introduce electronic payments, removing the need for over the counter transactions.
“This Minister seems determined to instigate measure after measure diminishing the role of Post Offices and threatening the future of more than 400 outlets across the country”, added Deputy O’Dea.
“The Government needs to switch its focus from trying to weaken Post Office services to building a quality, sustainable network which serves the needs of communities. Fianna Fáil has put forward comprehensive proposals aimed at diversifying and strengthening the workings of Post Offices. These include expanding An Post’s financial services as well as extending its remit to allow it to become a central office for State payments including motor tax, local authority tax and hospital charges.
“Earlier this year, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told the Dáil that there were no plans to close any Post Offices, however the Bill being published by Minister Burton will pose a real risk to their future viability. I’m calling on either Minister to give an assurance that the current network will remain untouched and unaffected by the changes being made to the legislation”.