Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Precarious work of various different types is-----

The Acting Chairman will probably have to wait for a Minister to come in.

My apologies. I thought the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, might be answering. We must wait. I have been told the Minister has been held up in the Seanad.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is here. We will proceed with Deputy Ó Cuív's Topical Issue matter.

Garda Deployment

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. It is always helpful when the Minister responsible comes and takes the issue.

To recap briefly on the history of the issue, before I entered politics there were two superintendents based in Connemara, one in Oughterard and one in Clifden. In a decision which was made before my time in politics but which was made by a Fianna Fáil, the headquarters for east Connemara was moved into Salthill barracks, but the regional headquarters for the rest of Connemara remained in Clifden. I now understand that the proposal is that the headquarters for all of Connemara would be in Salthill, which means that Galway city will have the headquarters for all of Connemara as well as the regional headquarters - a fantastic massive building which the Minister opened - but of which no notice was given until the last minute.

Some of us have not got the notice yet, although we will park that as it is not the subject of my question today. Second, an issue had been raised about having an office with an inspector in Carraroe that would be specifically for the Gaeltacht area, which would be a sub-region. However, we understand that is not going to happen either. Third, there is a need to ensure that, right up to the level of superintendent, all of those dealing with the Gaeltacht area can speak Irish. This happens to be the biggest Gaeltacht area in the country and things such as court cases are habitually carried out in Irish, of course, only when the other side can deal with a person in Irish. This is always the thing that forces language choice, and it forces language choice on me every day. My office deals with those who can deal with us capably in Irish through Irish, but we deal with those who can only deal with us capably in the English language in the pragmatic way, that is, through English.

We will not beat around the bush. Why will there not be a regional headquarters for Connemara based in Connemara, with the superintendent based in Clifden, as was always the case? Why is there not a sub-regional office for the Gaeltacht with an inspector based in An Cheathrú Rua? Will the Minister ensure that gardaí of all ranks who will be dealing with the Gaeltacht area of Connemara, which is about half of Connemara, will be able to do their business in both official languages in a fully competent manner? That would be an ceannfort, an cigire, na sáirsintí agus na gardaí in that area, so they would be able to go in and do the business i gcúirt Dhoire an Fhéich nó Chill Rónáin through Irish or English, depending on the language chosen by the defendant, and do their business in those languages before it ever gets to a court, as the case may arise. That is basically it. We will not waste any more time beating around the bush.

I do not wish inconvenience on any of the Deputies. My understanding was I was to take the second matter. It was only when I saw the first matter had commenced and saw that Deputy Ó Cuív was here that I came to the Chamber rather hurriedly. I was not aware of any change.

If I heard Deputy Ó Cuív correctly, he said he had not been invited to the official opening of the Garda station in Galway. If that is the case, I am very sorry it happened.

It does not upset me.

As he is the senior Deputy for the area, I did miss him on the occasion of the opening, which I think was on the last day of July, certainly the last weekend of July.

I was here. I never left the country.

While I did not issue the invitations, an invitation should, of course, have issued to the senior Deputy for the area. I am sorry that took place and I will certainly check it out because the Deputy should have been present. I know the Deputy would have made representations on the matter, which is important to his constituency and the people he represents.

Deputy Ó Cuív will appreciate that the allocation of all Garda resources, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and his management team and I have no direct role in this regard. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that, in regard to the deployment of Garda personnel, a distribution model is used which takes into account all relevant factors, including population, crime trends and the policing needs of each individual Garda division, including the Galway division, with a view to providing an effective and responsive police service.

The Deputy will be aware that Clifden Garda station is the district headquarters for the Clifden Garda district, which forms part of the Galway division. I am informed by the Commissioner that a superintendent district officer was assigned to the district in August and that superintendent is based in Clifden Garda station. This was to fill the vacancy created by the transfer of the previous district officer to take up the position of detective superintendent with responsibility for the western region, which is located in the Galway headquarters.

The Garda strength of the Clifden district on 31 October, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 34. There are 29 Garda reserves and 67 Garda civilian staff attached to the Galway division. In addition, when appropriate, the work of local gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units, such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support units, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

As the Deputy will be aware, community policing is at the heart of An Garda Síochána. It provides a means of recognising that every community has its own concerns and expectations, and it has been one of the key strengths of the organisation throughout its history. In that regard, a key focus of the ongoing reform in An Garda Síochána is the modernisation of the way in which policing services are delivered so as to provide a better service to communities. A new divisional policing model is currently being piloted in four divisions across the country, including Galway. This new model was recommended by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate in 2015 to support the more flexible and effective deployment of resources. The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recommended a move towards a new local model for policing.

With regard to Gaeltacht policing, I am advised by the Commissioner that An Garda Síochána is fully committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Official Languages Act and the 20 year strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030, one of the objectives of which is that the use of the Irish language by An Garda Síochána will be continued and developed. Eligible applicants for An Garda Síochána who are fluent Irish speakers may opt to be considered for inclusion in a specialist Irish language stream within the overall recruitment competition run by the Public Appointments Service. Candidates appointed from the Irish language stream are expected to provide a full range of services in Irish. Successful candidates are allocated to Gaeltacht areas for a period of time, as determined by the Garda Commissioner.

It seems we get the answer that there is a superintendent there. However, when we get to the meat of the issue in the fifth paragraph of the Minister's script, we read: "A new divisional policing model is currently being piloted in four divisions across the country, including Galway." Our clear understanding on the ground of what this means in simple English, when we strip away all the verbosity we are presented with by the Minister, is that there will be no superintendent based in Clifden, and that the superintendent will fundamentally be based in Galway city and Salthill. This is not a matter of local deployment; it is a matter of national policy. It seems there is a national policy of stripping everything out of the rural areas and centralising everything into major urban areas. Therefore, on the basis of national policy, which is the remit of the Minster, is he willing to direct that rural areas would retain their key role in the provision of services and the location of headquarters, not on the basis of the whole county but the region, and Connemara is a very distinct region? In my humble opinion, if the area was being divided, all of Connemara should be one Garda subsection, or whatever one wants to call it.

With regard to the Irish language, we get verbose wording about objectives and commitments. I asked a simple question. Will An Garda Síochána ensure that all gardaí who deal directly with the Gaeltacht at all levels are able to do their business in the Irish language? It is a simple question to An Garda Síochána and the answer supplied is vague, to say the least.

Deputy Ó Cuív's opinion is never humble. I very much value his experience of many years representing the people of the west and the particular area to which this debate refers. I have listened very closely to what he said.

I reject the Deputy's assertion that this is part of a grand plan to remove services from rural Ireland. My Government colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that the Garda Commissioner has the resources to deliver an effective and modern policing service to all communities throughout the country, including Connemara and the Gaeltacht area. Over the last few years, unprecedented resources have been made available to the Garda Commissioner to implement the Garda modernisation and renewal plan. I acknowledge the leadership of the former Acting Commissioner, Mr. Donall Ó Cualaín, a constituent of Deputy Ó Cuív, until he gave way to the recently appointed Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris. Resources are now coming on stream across all Garda divisions, including the Galway division, to ensure availability and visibility of gardaí.

I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that since the reopening of the Garda Training College in September 2014, almost 2,200 recruits have attested as members of An Garda Síochána and been assigned to mainstream duties across the country, with 31 assigned to the Galway division. In July of this year, I had the pleasure of attending the official opening of the western regional Garda headquarters in Murrough, Galway. I invite Deputy Ó Cuív to agree with me that the new regional headquarters will become a vital part of the infrastructure of the Galway area. It will also support the delivery of an effective policing service to communities across the Galway division and the Clifden district.

I do not have time to repeat the points I made about the Irish language but I would be happy to provide Deputy Ó Cuív with further information on the Irish language in An Garda Síochána. On the need for gardaí in Gaeltacht areas to be able to conduct their business through the medium of the Irish language, owing to time constraints I will take up that matter privately with the Deputy.

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for his co-operation. We will now return to the first Topical Issue matter.

The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, is not here.

The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, is taking the matter on behalf of the Minister.

No. This Topical Issue matter was moved on two separate occasions specifically to allow the Minister to be here to take it.

The Minister is in the Seanad.

I have not finished my point. This Topical Issue matter was originally to be taken about a week ago, when I agreed to defer it to another day. I have no problem with Ministers not being available but I agreed to defer it to today at the request of the Minister. I would not have bothered re-tabling it for today if I had known the Minister could not be here to take it. The reason it was not taken on the first day was because the Minister was not available. Had I been told earlier that she could not be here, I could have deferred the matter to another day. It was deferred to today on the basis that the Minister would be here to take it.

The Deputy will note from the monitor that the Minister is in the Seanad.

I take that point but the way in which this works is that the matter is deferred-----

I understand the Deputy's point and I sympathise with him. Does he wish to proceed and allow the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, to deal with the matter?

No. I want to have the debate with the Minister, as promised.

The response I will give is the same response that would be given by the Minister. I am also a Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It is a matter for the Deputy. I do not mind one way or the other.

I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State.

I know that.

I cannot allow further debate on the matter. Would the Deputy like to defer the matter to another day?

I have no problem with that.

We will now move to the third Topical Issue. In fairness, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, was here but I told him it would be ten or 12 minutes before we reached this matter. We will have to wait for him.

Maybe he will get the bus.

On a point of order, for the record I genuinely understand that people have other commitments but there should be advance notice of these matters. That is a fair point.

My apologies, I understood the House was returning to the first Topical Issue matter.

Owing to unforeseen circumstances, we are not taking that matter today.

Bus Éireann Services

I thank the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, for coming to the Chamber for this important debate. Yesterday at about 4 p.m. users of Bus Éireann service 126N, the nightrider service from Dublin to Newbridge via Naas, were shocked when Bus Éireann tweeted that this service was being axed from this Saturday night. The 126 bus will continue, with a last run at 11 p.m.. As the last train to Newbridge leaves Dublin at 11.10 p.m., including at the weekend, the proposed withdrawal of this service has caused uproar among commuters. I was inundated with calls from constituents last night and this morning.

This morning, the NTA said it had approved the continuation of the 126 service, which will operate late services at 12.30 a.m. and 3.30 a.m., until the end of this year, following which there would be a review of the service to determine if a public service obligation is required for its continuation in 2019. The manner in which Bus Éireann and the NTA have handled this matter is unsatisfactory. What consultation took place between Bus Éireann and the NTA, if the Department was aware of it? If the NTA has known about this for a number of weeks, as a Bus Éireann representative told me today it did, it should have communicated it to us and not just issue a tweet, leaving people thinking all of their plans for the coming weeks were ruined.

Bus Éireann has said that operating costs for this service were not being covered owing to insufficient passenger numbers and that it is for this reason it is being axed as a commercial route. It is hard to believe the company has operated this route all year at a loss and is now proposing to axe it as we approach peak demand in the Christmas period. This smacks of an attempt to leverage the taxpayer to pay for the PSO for this route. There is great demand for this service. I have used it myself in the past. I have been contacted by many people about the proposed axing of this route. What analysis is undertaken of Bus Éireann proposals to axe a route on the basis that it is loss-making, in the full knowledge that this will cause uproar?

I note that this is the second time Deputy Heydon and I have drawn attention to a public transport issue in Kildare in as many weeks. I did not get the chance on the previous occasion to say I agreed with Deputy Heydon's remarks on the extension of the train service to Newbridge, taking the pressure off Sallins and other stations further up the line so I take the opportunity to do so now.

To turn to today's issue, the 126N Nightrider service to Naas, Newbridge and beyond is very useful and popular. It is a self-evident service. It gets people home after a few drinks or a late night in town. It operates at 12.30 a.m. and 3.30 a.m., later than the normal services. I have used it on occasion, although not in recent times. I spoke overnight and this morning to many people who use it regularly and I am told it is extremely popular and, in fact, generally oversubscribed. It is very difficult to get back to Kildare after a night out without the service. I recently spoke to people who had to travel via the airport, a very convoluted route. There are certain other options but they are very convoluted, involve a number of stops in between and are not easy to take. The benefits of the services are self-evident and close to the Minister's heart. For example, having people ferried home by public transport after a night on the town means they will choose not to drink and drive, which is surely a public policy goal, as is encouraging people to use public transport in the first place. The reason advanced for cancellation, that the service was not commercially viable, does not seem to stack up. As I said, a significant number of people use the service and, given the clamour today and yesterday when this decision was announced, it is clear there is a ready-made market for it. I do not buy Bus Éireann's explanation.

Deputy Heydon referred to the manner in which the announcement was made. Eight Oireachtas Members from Kildare last week had a meeting with the NTA at which this decision was not even mentioned. I am not ascribing blame to the individuals involved, but surely in terms of communications that was a golden opportunity to have this discussion. However, rather than doing so or having any kind of consultation with Oireachtas Members, councillors, member of the public or, most important, the users of the service, a tweet was sent out yesterday evening after close of business. I appreciate there has been some degree of roll-back and that Bus Éireann now says the service will operate until Christmas. This is better than nothing and, coming into the busy Christmas period, the service will certainly be in great demand. What is the plan for the period after Christmas? Is this part of the Go-Ahead takeover? Is there a subvention opportunity? Will the NTA take ownership of the plan in 2019? Where do we go next?

I thank Deputies Heydon and Lawless for raising this matter. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in respect of public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport. Deputies will understand that the operation of Bus Éireann services is a matter for the company, with oversight by the NTA.

The NTA has entered into a contract with Bus Éireann for the provision of a number of public service obligation, PSO, bus services. In accordance with the terms of this contract, the day-to-day operation of these services is managed by Bus Éireann. The company is required to meet performance obligations in respect of service delivery such as punctuality, services operated, vehicles in service and customer information. Route 126, which operates along the Dublin-Kildare corridor, is one such PSO service and will continue to operate through the day until the last service departs Dublin city centre at 11 p.m.

Route 126N, which operates on the Dublin-Naas-Newbridge route on Friday and Saturday nights, is a licensed commercial Bus Éireann service. Given that it is a commercial route, the service receives no State funding. Bus Éireann has advised that the costs to run the service were not being covered due to insufficient passenger numbers and it has been loss-making for some time. As a result, the company made the commercial decision to cancel this service and the associated licence from the end of November. I understand that the NTA was informed of this decision as part of the cancellation process. To mitigate the impact of the cancellation of the night services on route 126N, especially during the festive period, Bus Éireann, in conjunction with the NTA, has announced the introduction of late-night services on route 126 on Friday and Saturday nights. I am advised that these additional services will start on Friday, 30 November and continue until the end of December. These late-night services will depart the city centre at 12.30 a.m. and 3.30 a.m. and serve Busáras, the Ha'penny Bridge and all locations previously served by route 126N. The late-night services will therefore serve Kill, Naas, Newbridge, Sallins and Clane. The NTA has advised me that standard fares will apply on these services rather than the special fares previously charged on route 126N. Free travel passes will also be accepted.

In instances such as this in which operators withdraw commercial services, the NTA determines whether there is a public service obligation to provide the services on a socially necessary basis. As such, the NTA intends to review the late services and determine whether a public service obligation applies in the provision of these late-night services on a continuous basis from 2019.

As the Deputies may be aware, the Bus Éireann PSO route 126 is one of six routes which were competitively tendered by the NTA as part of bus market opening. Go-Ahead was awarded the contract to operate these routes. Routes 120, 120C, 123, 124 and 130 will also form part of the network of services to be operated by Go-Ahead along the Dublin-Kildare corridor under a public service contract with the NTA. Services operated by Go-Ahead are expected to commence in quarter 2 of 2019. The NTA is working to finalise the timetables and other aspects of the services. Any changes to the current configuration will be announced well in advance of the implementation of services.

I hope the update I have given the Deputies will alleviate any concerns about the continued provision of late-night services for the travelling public in the Kildare area, particularly as we enter into the festive period.

I thank the Minister for his response. I welcome the safeguarding of the Nightrider routes until the end of the year at the very least to allow a little time and space for consultation on and analysis of the use of these routes and future demand, which I expect will continue into the new year. This is particularly important for south Kildare residents because taxi and hotel costs for these residents, who may want to have a night out in Dublin for work or whatever other reason, are prohibitive during the busy Christmas period, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. This is therefore an important extension. We must consider the broader scheme in this regard. I hope there will be proper consultation with those who use the route to ascertain the level of demand, on which we should not just take Bus Éireann's word, and to examine the time options. It may be possible to change departure times or work with them a little if passenger numbers are down but, again, I am sceptical of Bus Éireann's statement that there have been insufficient passenger numbers for some time. I question this because we are heading into a period of peak business. I think there is something afoot with this decision. The curt way in which it was communicated to people did a major disservice to passengers of Bus Éireann, and I express my disappointment in this regard. Nonetheless, I am glad the service will continue until the end of the year at least.

I welcome the clarification that the NTA will review the route after Christmas. I heard from the provider, Bus Éireann, this morning that the service was guaranteed until Christmas and I welcome the clarification today that it will review and perhaps consider the service as part of the PSO at that point. I hope some lessons are learned from this exercise. While I appreciate that the Minister may not have direct operational responsibility, I hope he will bring to the NTA's attention the manner in which this decision was communicated. Does he share our concerns that a tweet late in the evening announcing the cancellation of a service established for over ten years, with zero engagement, is not the way to go?

If there is to be a review, I would welcome the opportunity for engagement, as would, I am sure, all Deputies from Kildare. I would suggest a number of improvements. I will not detail them all now but they include suggestions on the timetable and stops on the route. I can think of a number of changes off the top of my head that would improve the service if it is loss-making, although I am sceptical about that. Perhaps we could help the company turn this around by making some tweaks which would make the service more popular and useful.

I ask the Minister to press the company to engage with the users of the route and Members of the Oireachtas before it makes a decision on this service. It is critical that lessons are learned from such an engagement.

The Deputies' representations may have made a difference as the NTA and Bus Éireann have decided to continue this service until Christmas, and for that I thank them. I presume the NTA's promise to carry out a review is also welcome. The Deputies will have plenty of opportunities to make representations before a decision is made. I will convey to the NTA and Bus Éireann what they said about the way in which the announcement was made.

Post Office Network

At the outset, and with no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, I am very disappointed that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, could not present himself to this House tonight. He normally takes pride in the fact that he always takes his own Topical Issue matters but there may be a genuine excuse. Had I known that, I would have requested this for another day.

In my county of Donegal, 17 post offices are either closing or due to close. This is a result of a protocol presented to the Government by An Post, and the Government accepted that protocol. It related to post offices in areas with a population of less than 500. They are not a population. They are rural settlements. It was a deceitful way to have done this. There was no commercial analysis, no economic analysis and no rural proofing. It is fine for the people of Dublin to be 2 km from a post office but what about the people of rural Ireland?

People will have to walk or cycle or perhaps use public transport, if it is available. I refer to 15 km. The people of rural Ireland, and particularly the people of my county, have been conned by this Government. I came in here with others and we voted unanimously on an amendment to provide a public service obligation, PSO, for those rural areas. What has the Government done? It has ignored it. Together with colleagues, I went to public meetings around the constituency. Committees were selected. Days and hours were spent preparing submissions. For whom were those submissions? They were submissions to reviewers appointed by An Post. What other decision would we expect from those reviewers?

I know the name of one. I am not questioning their integrity but I believe it was only a box-ticking exercise. As I said earlier, it was a deceitful way of dealing with the people of rural Ireland. I went to the GPO, together with my colleagues, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Pringle, with bags full of submissions. We might as well have put a match to them in the middle of O'Connell Street because they had no effect whatsoever. It is not good enough that An Post and the Government have not accepted the will of this House and a unanimous decision by this House. The Government has totally ignored it. We are not prepared to accept this and it has conned the people of rural Ireland.

I, too, am very disappointed. I welcome the reappointment of Deputy Canney as a Minister of State and I wish him well in his post. It is, however, an insult that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is not here. There is insult after insult. Newcastle Save Our Post Office committee sent its appeal by registered post on 26 September 2018. It expected and was led to believe that it would have a decision within 28 days. A committee member contacted An Post on 21 October 2018 because they still had not received any news about their appeal. The committee was informed that it was with an independent assessor. Independent my eye.

As Deputy Gallagher said, this is a box-ticking exercise. The appeal was a comprehensive one. I salute the committee. After a huge public meeting in Newcastle, the committee substantially tackled and addressed each item listed in the protocol with supporting maps, photographs, letters and almost 1,000 signatures from the small village I represent in south Tipperary and the Waterford border. The appeal itself was seven pages long. The so-called independent assessor did not have the manners to contact the committee, acknowledge it or even to ring.

We found out this morning that a local councillor got a letter. The committee itself has got no letter yet stating that its appeal was turned down. This is outrageous. The Minister of State is back in power. I ask him to go back to his senior Minister and tell him to put manners on these An Post officials and the so-called independent assessor. The committee worked very hard to put together a substantial appeal and the committee members are answerable to the community through a public meeting. It was a public process which was engaged in and the committee has nothing to tell them. The committee has not even got a letter.

Kilmeaden post office in Waterford got it today as well. The closure was part of a dirty filthy agreement reached between the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, and An Post. It was just another aspect of the unembarrassed contempt for rural Ireland that the Government, which the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, chose to join again, has for the people of rural Ireland. In April 2018, the IPU hyped up the outcome of the negotiations with An Post as an outcome that was, allegedly, all about maintaining the delivery of local post office services throughout the State.

The Minister of State is losing his own constituency and he knows it. Today we know those words were meaningless. The people are not cared about. The so-called agreement included a €50 million investment package to fund the post office network and negotiated redundancy settlements, and it was sold as snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Where is the victory for our post office? People have been told to travel 7 km to Ardfinnan. What happens if they do not have a car or if they are not able to drive? There is no taxi service and there is no bus service. This is an insult to rural Ireland. Rural proofing my backside. There is no such thing as rural proofing here.

I will come back in later.

I will let the Deputy back in again.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this issue. I apologise for the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is not here to answer the Deputies.

He has a duplication of business and he asked me to take the question for him. I welcome the opportunity to do that. The Government is committed to supporting a post office network that meets the needs of communities throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. A modernised post office network will provide a better range of financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses as well as Government services. We are all cognisant of the valued and dedicated service that postmasters the length and breadth of the country have given to rural and urban communities over many years.

Across the country, postmasters have taken the difficult decision in recent months to leave the business. It is important to bear in mind that this was a voluntary decision and I am sure that the decisions were not taken lightly. It is important that the decision of those who wish to leave the business is respected. The decision on whether to accept the package was solely one for individual postmasters.

I understand the concerns of older people and communities and that this is an anxious time for many of them. I remind Deputies that more than 500 post offices closed during the economic boom between 2002 and 2007, including 30 post offices in Deputy Gallagher's county of Donegal. No action was taken and the post office network was allowed to fall into decline. No new investment or services were put into it during this period. This Government did not want that to continue.

The postmasters of this country and the communities they serve deserve a clear future and a plan to be put in place for the development of and investment into the post office network and its services. We have now set out a clear path and future for the post office network. Almost two years ago, we were presented with a future for An Post and the post office network that was uncertain and extremely bleak. There was a real possibility that the company would go under. The potential for a complete shutdown of postal services with the loss of thousands of jobs was undeniable. Immediate action was needed to ensure the survival of An Post and the post office network. This was necessary to protect thousands of jobs across the country and specifically the 9,000 people working in An Post. Two years later, critically important decisions have been made. An Post has been stabilised because of the action that has been taken. The company is changing from a 19th century model to one that has relevance and can have resonance in the 21st century in rural and in urban areas.

There is widespread acceptance that the post office network requires modernisation to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities throughout the country. An Post's renewed vision for the post office network centres on the availability of new services in a modernised and revitalised network. These services must include a better range of Government services, financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses.

The closed door.

Investment of €50 million in the network by An Post is based on getting communities to use the enhanced services that their local post office will provide through a modernised network. Key to the future network will be the willingness of us all to use it. The agreement reached by the Irish Postmasters Union is essential to delivering on the renewed vision for the post office network. In negotiations with An Post, postmasters and postmistresses sought both the modernisation of the network and a voluntary redundancy package for those who wanted to leave the business. Talks were concluded between An Post and the IPU in April this year following three months of intensive negotiations.

The agreement was subsequently endorsed by 80% of the members of the IPU. An independent appeals process was put in place to enable communities to have reviewed a decision relating to their local post office. In addition, any retailer in any of the locations of the 159 post offices can apply to An Post to be considered to take over some or all of the services of the closing post office. If a retailer seeks to avail of services and if An Post decides for one reason or another not to provide them, that decision can also be submitted for review to an independent process.

The deadline for receipt of appeals under this process was 31 October. I have been advised that 50 cases were submitted for review by the closing date from 159.

I know from the tone of the speech from the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, that his heart is not in it. He knows rural Ireland as well as I do. The response was prepared by An Post and endorsed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The one honest sentence indicates this was based on a "voluntary redundancy package" so why would 80% of the post office union not endorse it? It was in their interests. I am not critical of those who accepted the redundancy package but An Post should have replaced the services lost where people took the package. The response further indicates that some of the services or all could be provided in another retailer. The deadline for that was Wednesday, 31 October. How can we ask these people to run a business when decisions were not taken until into November and some will not be taken until December? How could a submission be made in advance of that?

It is a very sad day. If the Minister has a duplication of business, it means this is less important than the business he is now attending to. To us this is the most important business being discussed in this House today. It is a total insult to us as Deputies and to rural Ireland that this is being done. It is just not good enough. We are not prepared to accept this. We are looking for the Minister to meet a representative cross-party group of Deputies to discuss this matter and the associated protocols. Who appointed these people? It is a box ticking exercise. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to confirm tonight that the Minister will meet that group of rural Deputies.

That reply is unbecoming of the Minister of State and he knows, coming from a rural community, that it is balderdash. This is a rotten and stinking deal done by the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU. Who gave it any mandate to close post offices? I salute all the postmasters and postmistresses. More power to any of them who took the redundancy as they are entitled to it. Park that first of all. It did not give the IPU the right to negotiate away services from my village in Newcastle in Tipperary or the other five villages in Tipperary losing their post offices. The Minister would not even come in here, which demonstrates his disdain.

I have written to the four Fianna Fáil Deputies, including Deputy Michael McGrath, who are renegotiating the confidence and supply agreement. If Fianna Fáil cares about rural Ireland, with the Government it will prioritise these post offices and disband this cabal of people on a so-called independent inquiry team. Its members had neither the manners nor the respect to write back to our committee in Newcastle, which has gone about its work diligently and honestly. This is a cop-out and disgrace for the Minister of State to say what he has about this being successful.

The Deputy has gone way over his time.

The Minister must act. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael must keep these post offices open. If that does not happen they should call an election and go to the country so the people can make a decision rather than a cabal of so-called independent people with a rotten and stinking deal that the union negotiated behind people's back.

They had no mandate for it.

The Acting Chairman knows all about it from his constituency.

I cannot make a commitment on behalf of the Minister but I will bring to him the Deputies' request to meet an all-party delegation.

He should be here.

Allow the Minister of State to answer the question.

I am from rural Ireland and I understand this process, which is also happening in my constituency. The post office network has not been supported and many offices have closed because they have not been supported.

This is a funny way of supporting them.

We must discuss the facts. It is the Government's policy that An Post remains a strong company in a position to provide a high quality, national postal service and that it maintains a nationwide customer-focused network of post offices in the community.

Closing the door.

The Government remains fully committed to a sustainable post office network, which is a key piece of economic and social infrastructure for both rural and urban areas. The postmasters of this country and the communities they serve deserve a clear future and a plan to be put in place for the development of and investment into the post office network and its services. Such action was not taken by a series of Governments over many decades. We have now set out a clear path and future for the post office network.

Closing its doors.

The decision on whether to accept the voluntary redundancy package was one for individual postmasters and it is important that those decisions are respected. Where a post office closes, 70% of the business transfers to a neighbouring office. The reality is that by facilitating those who wish to exit the business, neighbouring offices will be further supported, thereby ensuring a sustainable network. Innovation and change are being embraced and new services will meet new needs. Politically, our responsibility is to lead that change and strengthen An Post as a public company delivering a public service.

The Minister of State should stop reading. It is an insult to all our intelligence.

It is about supporting the decisions required to translate aspirations into effective action.

Out of common courtesy Deputy McGrath should allow people to reply. He can take this up again with the Minister.