2 August 2001 Edition

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Time is running out for An Post


How shortsighted can one government be? Last week the State of the West report clearly showed the outcomes of decades of Dublin government neglect of the West and North West.

This week, the Dublin government was faced with another policy dilemma. There are 1,900 post offices in the state providing not just a communications service but which have also become a vital element of the social and economic infrastructure of rural Ireland. In towns where economic underdevelopment has shut businesses, closed banks and dispersed people, the local post office has emerged as the last pillar of rural communities. The post office is a local bank, a place to pay bills, get official government forms and provide a much needed social focus for communities.

An Post had signalled to the Dublin government in its annual report the need to subvent many of these offices, where their economic viability was questionable. This failure is partially caused by successive Dublin governments, who refused to create the much-needed Third Force Bank which would have had the postal network as its hub.

To this can be added the unchallenged EU directives that are threatening to undermine the post offices' role as a bill payer for gas and phone companies. The Dublin government has made no public case at the EU for special consideration of the role the Irish post office network plays in rural society.

This week, they floated proposals that could transfer 900 post offices to agents who are running other retail businesses. How this will affect areas where no businesses are willing to take on the local post office is not answered. There could be a series of closures over time.

Public Enterprise minister Mary O'Rourke has promised that the network will be maintained but why has she not recognised fully the responsibilities of the state in ensuring that not only is the network maintained but that it is also enhanced and grown?

A holding operation is not enough. The postal network has the chance to be a dynamic cog in rebuilding rural economies not just in holding together declining ones.

Sinn Féin's Sean MacManus criticised the proposals. He said: ``Post offices are often the back bone of small communities. If the government fail to take decisive action in order to develop, rather than downgrade the services offered then they will be participating in the decline of rural Ireland.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1