Cork Mail Centre: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the decision by An Post to close the Cork mail centre by March 2020 with the loss of 240 jobs;

— the devastating effect this decision will have on the workers concerned and their families; and

— the negative effect this will have on the local economy in the short-, medium-, and long-term;

further notes:

— the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 and National Development Plan targets to make Cork the fastest growing city in Ireland for the next two decades with a 2040 population of 320,000-360,000; and

— the dissonance between such targets and a decision to shut down a mail centre in the heart of this area;

recognises:

— the opportunities presented to An Post by the rapid growth in demand for parcel delivery services; and

— that this increase in demand has already resulted in a 60 per cent growth in demand for An Post parcel delivery services in the last two years; and

calls on the Government to:

— instruct An Post to reverse this decision; and

— instruct An Post to enter negotiations with the workers’ trade union representatives to draw up a plan by 1st January, 2020, to expand An Post’s parcel delivery services without resorting to job losses.

I am sharing time with Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd Barrett.

I am sharing time with Deputy Gino Kenny.

The Deputies have 20 minutes between them.

At 10 p.m. on Wednesday last, workers at the Cork mail centre in Littleisland were told that An Post will shut the centre by March of next year with the loss of all 240 jobs. The news came as a bombshell to the workers. Some had taken out mortgages on the strength of their wage packets from the centre. More than one worker went home crying in their cars that night. An Post stated that the closure is inevitable and that the demand for An Post letter delivery services is down 7% year on year. However, the decline in demand for letter delivery is only part of the story. Demand for An Post parcel delivery services is up 60% in the past two years. This is part of a global phenomenon. In Bremen, Germany, Amazon is building a logistics centre which can house 280 delivery vans. In October, Australia Post will open the largest superhub ever built in the southern hemisphere. The challenge facing An Post should not be one which involves closing hubs and axing jobs. Rather, it should involve transitioning from a letter delivery company which handles parcels to a parcel delivery company which handles letters without resorting to job losses.

An Post has consistently refused to publish the McKinsey report which advised it on the future of its business. The report should be published. There should be no secret reports, especially when they are being kept secret to protect senior Cork politicians. I wish to state for the record that I am opposed to the closure of the Athlone mail centre as an alternative, even if that is recommended in the McKinsey report.

No An Post worker should have to go through what the Cork workers are going through this week. The real point about the McKinsey report is that it is out of date now. McKinsey was hired in 2016 before An Post went back into parcel delivery and before the company experienced a 60% growth in demand for the service. I repeat: the plan must be to transition to parcels without job losses.

In the United Kingdom, Royal Mail recently closed three mail centres but then reopened all three as parcel hubs. Royal Mail is also introducing a second daily delivery of mail. The An Post history of planning for the parcel boom is remarkably poor. The decision in 2004 to shut SDS, the An Post parcel delivery service, must rank as one of the most short-sighted business decisions in the history of the State. Having gifted private operators a free run for more than a decade An Post got back into parcel delivery in 2017, but there is still no comprehensive plan in place. This is shown by the inability of An Post to handle the volume of parcel mail last Christmas, when mail centres were literally over-flowing with parcels and packages. It is shown on a week-to-week basis by the backlog in delivering what is known in the company as the Asian mail, in other words, the mail order packages from Asian suppliers. Instead of closing the only mail centre in the south of this country, An Post should talk to worker representatives and negotiate a plan for expanding parcel services rather than resort to redundancy.

There are other grounds for asking how much planning went into this decision. The Government Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan and the national planning framework all project a Cork city population of between 320,000 and 360,000 by 2040. Cork is projected to be the fastest-growing city in Ireland in the 2020s and the 2030s. How much of this was taken into account by An Post before it made the decision and by the Government before it decided to back the An Post decision?

The Government recently announced the climate action plan. The plan aims to reduce carbon emissions across every Department. How much was this taken into account by An Post when it made the decision and by the Government before it decided to back the An Post decision? Does the Minister know that millions of letters that would have been sorted in Cork will now have to be transported by truck to Portlaoise? There will be dozens of extra trucks on the roads and they will have a major environmental impact. The Government is about to invest €3 billion of the people's money in rural broadband. This will surely add to the parcel boom. Rural households will be able to order packages more easily and rural businesses will be able to sell parcel products more easily. How much did An Post factor in these points before it made the decision? How much did the Government factor this in before it supported the An Post decision?

Workers at the Cork mail centre have had few questions answered so I wish to ask some questions of the Minister today on their behalf. Will the Minister see that McKinsey is published? Who made the decision to shut the Cork mail centre? Was it the chief executive officer or the board? Did the chief executive officer inform the Tánaiste of the decision before the board meeting? Will the Minster rule out selling the building to a private sector competitor? Has the building already been sold? Does the Government stand over the An Post proposal that redundancy payments will decrease on a sliding scale per year for employees aged over 60 years? Does the Government share my view that this is actually illegal? If the Cork mail centre is shut, will the workers be transferred over with wages and conditions intact, including the medical scheme, when new hubs are opened? Will one-day delivery have to be abandoned for County Cork or even for the Cork city area?

I wish to comment on the Sinn Féin, Government and Labour Party amendments. The Sinn Féin amendment is friendly and we will support it. The Government amendment supports closure and we will be opposing it. As for the Labour Party amendment, it is disgraceful. The Labour Party amendment takes out of the motion the call on the Government to ensure that the Cork mail centre is kept open. Workers at the mail centre will be gobsmacked to see that the amendment has been signed by Deputy Sean Sherlock. It seems the Deputy has decided to fly the white flag of surrender before the battle has even had a chance to start. Instead, the Labour Party has called for the publication of McKinsey and for improved redundancy and redeployment terms. The Labour Party knows that we support all these demands, but it is trying to force us to choose between a call to keep the centre open and improved redundancy or redeployment terms. The workers know that we will fight for the best possible terms for workers in every circumstance, but we are calling for a vote against this disgraceful amendment as it means throwing out the call to keep the Cork mail centre open.

I have made some observations about the role of the Government in all of this. Before I finish, I wish to make some points about the role of Fianna Fáil and, in particular, Deputy Micheál Martin. Deputy Martin has registered his opposition to the An Post decision. He correctly says it is a strategic error. He said he intends to raise the issue with the Tánaiste, the Minister and the chief executive of An Post. He was due to raise the issue with the chief executive of An Post yesterday. Many workers at the mail centre take all of this with a pinch of salt. They are fully aware that the mail centre would not close if Deputy Micheál Martin were to demand of the Government that it should stay open. The workers are acutely aware of the fact that he has consistently refused to do so. They may not be aware of the fact - I am making them aware of it now - that both Fianna Fáil representatives on the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment agreed this week to a proposal to excuse An Post from answering questions before the committee this week. An Post representatives will have breathed a sigh of relief at that and they have Fianna Fáil to thank for letting them off the hook.

I put my faith in the workers of the mail centre and the workers of An Post to fight this closure and protect jobs rather than rely on resolutions passed by Dáil Éireann. You know and I know, Acting Chairman, that the Government can choose to ignore a resolution of Dáil Éireann. My colleague, Deputy Coppinger, will outline some ideas on how the workers might fight this closure. Will the Government act on the motion if it is passed tomorrow? I am warning the Government that if the motion is passed but it does not act, then the moral authority of a Dáil vote will strengthen the case of those workers who decide to fight this unjustifiable closure.

This is not only about the important issue of the jobs of the workers in Cork. It is also about the future of postal and delivery services in Ireland. It is clear that with the changing model of retail, parcel delivery services are a part of the logistics more generally and are an increasingly central part of the economy. This is an area of rapid growth, as illustrated by the fact that the An Post parcel delivery service has increased 60% in only the past two years.

It is also an area where a race to the bottom is taking place globally. Private delivery services have taken the place of traditionally State-owned postal companies. As part of this change a substantial undermining of wages and conditions has arisen as has a driving down of the levels of unionisation that would historically have been high. Precarious conditions, low pay and hard exploitation are widespread. At the heart of this globally and in Ireland is the question of bogus self-employment. The majority of couriers and those engaged in parcel delivery for private companies are bogus self-employed. Although everything about their jobs is controlled by the company, officially they are self-employed. This off-loads responsibility from the company to the worker for the vans and so on to save the company millions in taxation. Hundreds of millions of euro each year are lost by Revenue as a result of these bogus self-employment scams. Couriers and delivery companies are to the fore in this. That is the model globally. It can be seen in the USA with Amazon Flex, which is the Amazon delivery company described as the Uber for delivery - in other words, based on bogus self-employment.

The closure of the Cork mail centre only makes sense in the context of this drive for the race to the bottom. What will happen to the workers? They will not be rehired in the new parcel hubs that will have to be set up by An Post. Instead, An Post will hire young people on lower wages and conditions.

Who will buy the valuable and strategically located mail centre site? A local Fianna Fáil politician has written to the chief executive of An Post to report an expression of interest from what is referred to as a global leader in parcel delivery. A sale to a private sector competitor would speed up the race to the bottom.

There is opportunity here to point in a different direction and go upwards instead of downwards. Instead of featuring workers with bogus self-employment, this crucial part of capitalist production and sale would feature workers with decent wages, conditions, and high levels of unionisation. Instead of selling the Cork mail centre and getting rid of these jobs, An Post could take a different approach and redefine itself primarily as a parcel delivery company which also handles letters. It would then become part of a model of public ownership based on democratic control by its workers, bringing them and service users to the centre of decision-making and in that way putting a plan in place for further development. Instead of asset-stripping, let us have investment and instead of redundancies, let us have quality new jobs for young people.

On behalf of People Before Profit, I commend Deputy Barry and Solidarity on tabling this motion. I pledge our complete support for the campaign of workers in the Cork mail centre to fight against the disgraceful decision to close the centre and eliminate these jobs. The Minister should bear in mind that An Post does not have a good record on making strategic decisions about its own future. It closed its special delivery service, SDS, which was a parcel delivery service, in 2003 when the boom in parcel delivery was about to start. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the management of An Post is almost wishing for its decline and making that prophecy come true with these sorts of decisions. The management has a history of this. It completely misunderstood what was happening and a boom in parcel delivery ensued after it made a decision to abandon An Post's special parcel delivery wing. It cannot be trusted to make these strategic decisions and has made a big mistake here.

How many times have we heard both the Government and Fianna Fáil refer to dramatic plans for population expansion in Cork? They even talk of the population doubling. Why are we taking away a crucial hub and piece of infrastructure when the population of Cork is set to double? The planned roll-out of rural broadband will increase parcel delivery as people buy online and so on. That would be facilitated by this centre in Cork, yet we are closing it down. At a time when we are discussing climate action, we are planning for these parcels to chug their way up the road to Athlone, Portlaoise or Dublin, pumping CO2 emissions into the air. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This is a consequence of moving away from understanding that An Post, like many other State-owned companies, is part of a vital infrastructure that should not be based on narrow short-term commercial considerations, but should be about maintaining a critical infrastructure for both the country and the Cork region. That slide towards deregulation and privatisation ends with stupid decisions that impact on workers and the infrastructure and services available to people, in this case people in Cork. It is worth noting that this is also part of the push towards deregulation of services of general economic interest by the European Union. The process of commercialisation and backdoor privatisation leads to the undermining of key public services. This comes on the back of a terrible history of closure of rural post offices and the damage that is doing to rural Ireland, all because of commercial considerations. A vital public service having to run on narrow, short-term, purely commercial considerations leads to the destruction of rural infrastructure and services, with devastating consequences for rural Ireland. The Government should not allow this to happen. It should ensure those jobs are saved and this hub and service are maintained for the expansion of parcel services in the Cork region.

I commend this motion and fully support it. I would like to show Solidarity's support to over 300 An Post workers who are facing job losses. Our solidarity and support goes out to them today. This closure will have a detrimental effect on them, their immediate families and the economy. Commercially, this decision does not make sense, as the commercial figures show that An Post is in good shape. The company reported revenues of €900 million last year, which is an increase of 7% from 2017. Stamp and meter receipts are also up 20%. The use of stamps and parcels is very productive for An Post, so this does not make commercial or strategic sense. As other Deputies have stated, this closure is a reflection of An Post's shift from a State company to a semi-State company and then to a commercial entity. That was borne out in the closure of post offices in rural areas, which has had a hugely detrimental effect on many villages. Responsibility for this lies squarely with the management of An Post, not the workers who have served the centre in Cork very well for the past 16 years. We are calling for An Post to reverse this decision because of the detrimental effect it will have on the workers.

I move amendment No. 3:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“recognises that:

— An Post is a commercial State company with its own Board and a mandate to deliver a postal delivery service, and a viable post office and mails centre network;

— staff in the Cork mail centre have delivered a consistently high level of performance over the years and have given great service to An Post;

— the impact of email and other forms of online communication on mail volumes have presented significant challenges to the existing postal business model, with the Cork mail centre operating at 25 per cent capacity and, in response, the An Post Board has put in place a strategic plan to transform the company in both the mails and retail business;

— An Post needs to reduce its letter processing capacity in line with global industry trends, and switch investment into its eCommerce/parcels network to ensure the future sustainability of the company;

— the closure of a mail centre was considered by the Labour Court in its recommendation of September 2017, which provides that 50 per cent of the savings arising from the closure of a mails processing centre will contribute towards pay awards in An Post; and

— continued transformation of the postal business will be difficult but the new changes will allow An Post to continue to be financially sustainable and in a position to avail of opportunities in the digital/eCommerce environment;

notes that:

— An Post has committed that all staff will be offered strong exit packages, redeployment opportunities within An Post’s delivery and post office networks in the Cork area, further education grants and support in securing jobs with new employers;

— An Post is engaged with the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) to ensure the best possible outcome for affected staff and has indicated that it will continue to work with the CWU in addressing all issues that may arise;

— An Post plans to invest over €15 million in parcels infrastructure across Cork City and the wider region over the next three years and that a major parcel delivery centre for Cork will open by 2022;

— An Post employs over 9,000 staff, continues to have a strong regional focus and will still employ almost 1,000 people in the Cork area;

— the Government has taken significant action to ensure the future viability of An Post and secure the future of the company, and these actions have resulted in a restructuring of the company, expansion of services in the post office network and have protected thousands of jobs in the postal sector across the country;

— a Government investment of €30 million was secured for An Post in order to safeguard the five days a week mail delivery service (€15 million) and to protect post office counter services (€15 million); and

— the Government continues to provide significant business to An Post through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection social welfare contract and National Treasury Management Agency business; and

commits the Government to:

— ensure that all relevant State supports will be made available to the workers impacted by this announcement; and

— monitor the An Post commitments to invest in the Cork area and the ongoing delivery of its strategic plan.”

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. I understand that it is a matter of significant concern for local workers and there is no doubt that those workers have provided a great service. This is not a reflection on the quality of work or the dedication they have shown over a number of years.

The sad fact that lies behind this decision is the substantial decline in the use of traditional mail. As the Deputies will appreciate, the volume of mail has halved in the past ten years and that decline is projected to continue. As Deputies will recall, this led to a very serious financial situation for An Post just two years ago when we had to introduce special legislation in this House to increase the cost of stamps. We also had to invest €30 million to support An Post and ensure elements of its public service commitment, such as the five-day service and post office counter services, continued. The market in which An Post is trading is changing rapidly and it had to respond by developing a restructuring programme. We are now seeing early signs of that programme's success.

The Deputies are correct that although parcel delivery services were exploding, An Post experienced a decline in its market share. One of the strategic decisions it has taken has been to radically change that and grow its parcel business.

One of the elements that allowed that to happen on the scale that it has was a negotiation with its employees. As a result of that negotiation, restructuring has taken place in the context of how the company delivers services. It has facilitated seven-day delivery in its parcel service and greater flexibility to increase the company's market share in this thriving business in respect of which there is sharp competition. Nonetheless, the company is doing very well in that business as a result of the restructuring to which I refer. The restructuring, which, as Deputies will be aware, was the subject of a Labour Court recommendation, involved a decision to make certain productivity improvements, one of which was to reduce the number of sorting centres from four to three in light of the dramatic collapse in the volume of mail. This is the outworking of that decision.

While I can understand both the concern locally and the reason the Deputies have raised this matter, An Post recognises that if it is to be a public service company it must take account of the change in the shape of the expectations of its customer base. If people are moving away from mail towards parcel and from some of the traditional post office services and demanding new retail services, it must show that it has the capacity and the strategy to deliver. That is at the heart of what it is doing and there are signs it is being successful in the context of repositioning itself so that it will have a strong growth prospect.

It is interesting that, contrary to what the Deputies have suggested, this is not a short-term commercial perspective An Post has taken. At the heart of its strategy are four key principles, including, that it has to be customer-centred so it has to know the direction of business customers want of it and respond to that and that it has to be a responsible employer, meaning that it must make the changes necessary to provide high-quality and sustainable employment that will endure into the future. That is what it is seeking to do and the very significant success it has enjoyed since it started to make these changes is a very good indication of where it is heading. However, it must be competitive in these new areas, which is important. It has had to make changes in work practices and investment to be competitive. Part of this has been a significant investment of €50 million in its services, so it restructured that business.

I acknowledge that which is happening is very disappointing but I also acknowledge An Post has been very careful to ensure that there are strong exit packages for workers who will be directly affected. It will have redeployment opportunities for the workers affected and it has a 100-strong employment force in Cork county, there will be support for the many changes in training and supports for people who do not choose to redeploy and want to go elsewhere, not only from An Post but from the wider State services.

This was a decision of the board. Under law, some of the things the Deputies are seeking to do, namely, to instruct An Post, is directly contrary to the laws we have established here. It is not for the Minister, the Government or the Dáil to instruct An Post. We have set up a way in which our State companies are managed which gives the Minister responsibility for certain high-level policy decisions. However, the commercial management and working out of these decisions must be done locally. An Post will be sitting down with the trade unions involved to work through the various terms and support workers in this difficult transition. It has already engaged with the unions and that will continue.

Deputy Barry raised the role of the McKinsey & Company in this matter. I understand that it was involved in the restructuring programme from the beginning, dating back to when it was first engaged in 2016, and that it has been a support to An Post. There is not a McKinsey report on the closure of mail centres. McKinsey & Company has been an element in the development of An Post’s strategy. The choice made by the board has had to balance the company's various needs, its employer interests, its ability to service its customer base and the best way in which it can manage from a cost point of view the changes it has to make. That calculation must be done by the company in the best interests of its employees, its customer base and the future of the company. That is what has underpinned the approach it has taken.

It is important to recognise that An Post is making significant investments in the Cork area, specifically in respect of the future of its parcel delivery service. Deputies are right to indicate that this will be a growth area. Even though mail delivery will continue to decline, which puts a major burden on the company, it must continue to win new market share in the other areas in order to counteract one of its continuing declining revenue streams, which, up until recently, represented more than 50% of its overall revenue. The company must undertake to successfully transit from an area of business that is highly loss-making and in serious decline to develop these new areas.

I must congratulate the board of An Post, the workers and those involved in management for undertaking and executing a strategy that is bringing about results. We see the success of the two new distinct business units the company created, the relaunched parcel business and its growing role in financial services, an area in which it can bring new services to its customer base. It is one of the biggest retail outlets in the country and it must develop that retail potential for its future recovery.

I accept that this is a disappointing day. There is no way of glossing over that from the point of view of the workers concerned. An Post is doing this in order to ensure that it will be repositioned in a very strategic way to service its customers in the future. It is also seeking to ensure that it will deliver the services required of a postal communications company. It has looked at successful models in Germany, Canada and other countries where successful change has been undertaken and where the businesses of the companies involved are strong and thriving. It is encouraging to see the early signs that this restructuring is working and that we will have growing, albeit different, employment over time as An Post successfully builds its new future.

While I thank the Deputies for raising this matter, I cannot support the motion. As indicated, I have proposed a counter-motion in amendment No. 3 on behalf of the Government.

Fianna Fáil has the next time slot of 20 minutes. Four Members are sharing time, starting with Deputy Micheál Martin.

I wish to share time with Deputies Michael McGrath, Murphy O'Mahony and Aindrias Moynihan.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. In the first instance, I would say to the Minister as a representative of the State and the shareholder in the company there is a clear responsibility and obligation on him to the workforce of An Post and to the company. The idea that the Minister is completely at a distance form the board and the policy decisions it takes does not hold water. The Government announced the national planning framework to great fanfare in Cork and elsewhere around the country. That framework refers to "Supporting ambitious growth targets to enable the four cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to each grow by at least 50% to 2040 and to enhance their significant potential to become cities of scale.” It also states, “A target of half ... of our future population and employment growth will be focused in the existing five cities and their suburbs.” Under the heading "National Policy Objective 3B", the framework includes the phrase "Deliver at least half (50%) of all new homes that are targeted in the five Cities and suburbs of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, within their existing built-up footprints”. This decision of An Post, a semi-State company, bears no relationship to those targets and objectives. It annoys people when they hear the rhetoric and all the plans with people congregating in UCC for that big launch and people being told that this is their new future and meanwhile an arm of the State seems completely at odds with the latter's overarching objective for these cities. This is the most modern mail centre in the entire An Post network.

I am not trying to score political points. I have been accused of being the person who is now responsible, according to Deputy Barry, for the centre's closure. I will not go there because there are 230 people who will potentially lose their jobs here and I want to deal with that.

There is no secret that the origins of this - I remember Deputy Sherlock raised this in the Dáil - date back to an agreement in 2017 between the Communications Workers' Union, CWU, and An Post hammered out at the Labour Court. A letter from the deputy general secretary of the CWU to his colleagues states that they will be aware of the Labour Court recommendation, LCR21563, issued in September 2017, which provided for the possible closure of one mail centre. It states that since that time, the union has dedicated its efforts towards keeping all four mail centres open with the surplus staffing which arises from significant letter and mail decline redeployed to the growing parcels and packet mail streams; that while this has been successful to date, the sad reality is the existing letter machinery network of all four mail centres has outlived its usefulness resulting in a major underutilisation of the 19 letter machines at the four centres; and that, in fact, there has been a further 10% decline. The letter goes on to state that as a consequence, regrettably, the union has been advised by the company that the board of An Post will decide, at a meeting scheduled for 27 June, which mail centre will close, and that in advance of the likely decision being made, the union and company has agreed provisional arrangements to deal with this most difficult situation facing its members at the mail centre concerned. The letter refers to later setting up a joint working group to deal with the migration of mail from this centre. Both the company and the national union were well aware that a mail centre was to go. Deputy Buckley said that in a previous contribution to the House as well. I say this as a matter of fact and objective reality.

What was not clear was which mail centre would close. Members sought clarity on that in this House on a number of occasions and did not get that clarity. I met the chief executive officer of An Post - I sought the meeting - and he revealed that Accenture was brought in to independently assess which centre was to close. I sought access to the Accenture document. I was able to read it but was not given a copy. I said to the chief executive officer that it should be published. There is no great differentiation between Cork and the remaining centres. There were three criteria, the first of which is operational feasibility, in other words, An Post's legal obligation to deliver the mail on the next day. The second related to recurring savings on an annual basis. The third related to staff welfare - how easy is it to redeploy and for the local economy to absorb.

On the recurring savings, there is little between the three centres. In Cork, one is looking at a potential €11 million saving. It is €10 million for Athlone and €9.7 million for Portlaoise. In terms of the property, there are once-off capital costs which also are within €1 million of each other.

There seems to have been an assessment made that the Cork economy could absorb the employees a bit better than the other locations, and then there is the talk of redeployment as well. I would raise questions. I have a real fear - I do not like saying this - that the closure of the Cork centre was pre-cooked. I cannot prove that. It will be denied, reference will be made to the Accenture report, etc. Having read that document quickly - I did not have prolonged access to it - it seems there is no compelling reason that the Cork mail centre had to close vis-à-vis other centres or why a different approach could not be taken. The remit given was the closure of one centre, not an evening out of cost savings. This arises from the Labour Court agreeing a 2% pay increase but that it has to be offset by savings on the letter mailing system. That is a disappointing outcome. That is where there has been something of a disingenuous approach here. There was no clarity on this, from 2017 right up to 27 June last. People informally held a suspicion. I suspect that was coming from the workers' side, they were picking up something from the monitoring group or somebody on the monitoring group was letting out information, but we could not get a hard fix on it.

The Minister stated An Post's restructuring has been a success. This House voted in the stamp increase. The Opposition here supported it. There needs to be give and take here. The Minister cannot expect Deputies to come in and agree an increase in the price of the stamp, which we did to help secure An Post's future and to help the restructuring plan, and then to be hit with a closure involving 235 job loses overall, when one adds in the part-timers who will lose their jobs.

Neither the company nor the Minister is being sincere when the Minister states there will be redeployment. On the redeployment, one is talking about people who work night shifts, who work part time and who will not easily migrate to or be absorbed by the delivery side of An Post. That is disingenuous as well. Equally, many being made redundant will find it difficult to get jobs, in terms of the position they were in vis-à-vis their life-work balance but also in terms of getting similar-type remunerative jobs in the local economy.

Structurally and for other reasons, there was a sense in An Post that the Cork one is easier to close than the remainder. I am not satisfied at all as to the underlying criteria that drove this decision.

Having spoken to the workers, much of what has been said is on offer has not materialised. Workers are at a loss. There is no hands-on engagement from the company at present, from what workers said to me as late as last evening, in terms of what options are available to them, in terms of redeployment within the company or in terms of advice, supports and all of that. It simply has not happened, according to the workers there. Likewise, they are unsure of the ultimate supports for those who might want to move on. There has been poor engagement from the company.

Fundamentally, there was little point in Government stating that it wants to grow the city of Cork and that it will double in population, yet the most modern mail centre in the entire network gets closed after an NDP and national planning framework was published six to 12 months ago. Here was a key piece of infrastructure. By and large, it was covering all of Munster.

Another issue raised was that the motorways were a factor. Motorways were meant to open up, not close down, the regions. The comment was made to me yesterday by An Post management that the motorways mean the company can service Munster now from Portlaoise in double-quick time. What are the implications for industry in the regions if that logic is to follow through and is that why we have congestion in the upper half of the country on all fronts?

My ten minutes are up and I will hand over to Deputy Michael McGrath. I would ask the Minister to revisit this matter and review it and to take the spirit of the motion on board.

I welcome the fact that Deputy Barry and his colleagues have tabled this motion.

In the short time available to me, I merely want to state - I am sure the Minister will be aware of this - that many of the 240 workers directly affected and their families are devastated. The impact of this will vary from individual to individual and family to family, but many of them are now facing into a very uncertain future. They do not know where to turn.

On the substance of this, if one stands back and looks at it, looks at the map of Ireland, the proximity of Athlone, Portlaoise and Dublin and the fact that An Post has chosen to close Cork serving the entire southern region, it really does not make any sense from that perspective, yet that is what they have chosen to do despite all of the ambitious plans that the Government has laid out for Cork over Project Ireland 2040, as has been stated by my party leader and others in this debate so far. There is a complete mismatch there. When I look at that map and at the proximity of the other three centres, the fact that Cork was chosen appears to make no sense whatsoever. From a sustainability point of view and from the perspective of developing An Post's business model into the future, the company will need a substantial parcels centre to serve the southern region in the decades to come. This is a short-sighted decision.

I would ask the Minister, if he is speaking again during this debate, to confirm that the building will not be sold. There are many rumours that the building has already been sold and competitors of An Post in the parcel distribution business are eyeing up its purchase.

It would be a deeply retrograde step by the company if it were to let this happen. Many of the assertions that have been made by An Post are disputed by people working at the front line. An Post says that the Cork mail centre is operating at below 25% capacity. In comments made by spokespersons on behalf of the company, the impression has been given - many employees take umbrage at this - that it is underperforming. That really is not fair or accurate. Consistently, it has been one of the two best performers among An Post mail centres over that period. As some of the staff have said to me, they have the posters on the wall stating this and they have a trophy in the cabinet confirming that they have been the most efficient and best performing mail centre. As Deputy Micheál Martin has said, it is the most modern and best equipped of the mail centres. This decision needs to be reviewed.

The Minister's Cabinet colleague, the Minster for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, welcomed the decision, of course, and said he had been working closely with An Post over the last 12 months. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has said there was no political involvement whatsoever in this decision. Is the Minister for Justice and Equality claiming credit for something in which he had no involvement? It cannot be both ways; something does not add up. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, needs to become involved and make his views known on this. It is not adequate for him just to wash his hands. There is a report from Accenture to which Deputy Micheál Martin has referred which should be published and put into the public domain. Much of what has been said by the company so far is not accurate and does not stand up to independent scrutiny. These workers feel they have been thrown under the bus. In my view, Cork has been shafted in respect of this issue. It is not fair or right and the Minister should become involved to bring about a reversal of the decision.

I acknowledge Deputy Barry for bringing forward this motion, which is very much needed. The announcement of 240 job losses at the Cork mail centre is a serious blow for all the staff and their families. It is a retrograde step. Shutting down a state-of-the-art centre is a strategic mistake. The staff involved are devastated, as are their families. They are facing redundancy, which is very unfair on them. Every effort should be made to meet their needs. We see the great work they are doing night after night so that post can be delivered in the morning. There is another group, in addition to the 240, who are also at a loss. They are the seasonal workers, many of them students, who come in during the run-up to Christmas for those very busy weeks. They too will lose out. This centre, which opened in 2003, was the most modern in the country. Its closure is announced against the background of Cork being expected to grow dramatically and its population to double in size over the next decades. We see also the way in which parcel post is continuing to increase steadily, up some 40% last year. An Post is in far better financial health, with mail and parcel revenue up €38 million in 2018. Last November, we saw a 60% increase in the number of parcels it delivered compared with previous years.

The Minister referred to having a strong exit package. Having spoken to a number of the staff, I ask the Minister for clarification. I understand that while the severance package offers six weeks' pay per year worked for many people, up to a maximum of two years' pay, those over the age of 60 appear to be in a far less favourable position, as they will receive a maximum of six months' pay when they retire. These are people who are on the D stamp PRSI or the older An Post contracts. Will they have to wait for retirement? Can the Minister clarify whether they have less favourable conditions?

I support the motion and thank Deputy Barry for bringing it forward. There are some technical issues but the sentiment and outline of the solutions proposed are the correct ones. The announcement of 240 job losses at the Cork mail centre is very disappointing for the workers involved and their families. Some of these people live in my constituency of Cork South-West and some live in that of my colleague, Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe, who is unable to be here this evening but shares our concern. While I wish those working in the other mail centres in Dublin, Athlone and Portlaoise well, it is ironic that the newest and most modern of the four centres was the one that had to lose out. I said last week that the decision of An Post to close its Little Island mail centre is further evidence of the erosion of services outside of Dublin and the east coast. The closure of 12 post offices in the greater Cork area in 2018 was bad enough and now we have this. Two post offices in my own constituency closed, despite a public meeting at which a local Minister of State gave assurances that everything would be done to avoid these closures. I have first-hand experience of the importance of the local post office network, having worked in An Post for many years. In the absence of other amenities such as Garda stations, pubs and general practitioner services, I understand the reliance on the post office for both economic and social well-being, not to mention the efforts of post office staff in the community. The failure of An Post and the Government to offer replacement contracts as opposed to redundancy packages has made the situation worse. It will inevitably lead to the closure of further post offices in County Cork and further decimate rural west Cork.

It was only yesterday that we spoke here about mental health issues. It is undeniable that all matters pertaining to rural Ireland are linked. The closure of rural services will lead to further rural isolation and hence create more pressures on mental health services. That is just one indirect consequence. The blame game cannot continue to play out here. The closing of this mail centre is fundamentally wrong and I ask the Minister to re-examine it. Given that this facility is the newest of the four mail centres in the country, the decision to close it is counterproductive notwithstanding any savings that may be envisaged. I am calling on the Minister to take a stand, undertake meaningful dialogue with An Post and put provisions in place to save this mail centre, the jobs affected and what remains of rural Ireland.

I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Laoghaire, Buckley and Jonathan O'Brien. I welcome the motion from Solidarity-PBP in respect of the mail centre. I also welcome the fact that the Deputies proposing it will accept Sinn Féin's amendment. Here we are again discussing the closure of another piece of a vital network in terms of the postal services. A number of times, we have heard Ministers tell us in the House that the Government is committed to protecting the postal services. However, over 200 workers in Cork are being forced into redundancy with great losses to the community and the city of Cork. Despite all the talk, the decision has been made. Is the Minister going to stand idly by while the post office network is being run down? This is a blow for regional development. If any one of the four centres is closed, it will be a blow for whichever region is losing it. I find what has happened with the post office network over the past decade very disheartening. Between 2000 and 2010, we saw 732 post offices close their front doors. This is a direct contradiction of what Government policy should be. The process has continued and has done terrible damage. We do not view the post office network as a burden. We see it as key infrastructure that is vital to the economy. We want to see the establishment of a long-term vision for our network.

It is true that mail volumes are falling but we have known that for a long time.

We need more long-term planning and we need to diversify. An Post has gone from crisis to crisis for a number of years. While the position stabilised in the past two years, the company was in free-fall for five or six years before that. The vital planning for diversification and expansion of other services did not take place. We had the Kerr report and the McKinsey report. The post office infrastructure needs to offer new services. The use of parcels is increasing and this should be fully exploited.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, represents the public and is the sole shareholder in An Post. As such, he is not a bystander in this process. It is important that everything possible is done to save these jobs.

The employees of the mail centre at Little Island were called into a meeting late on Wednesday night and given the hammer blow that many of them feared. Many of them were deeply worried, indeed heartbroken, and having given ten, 20 or 30 years of service to An Post, they feel let down. The way they were treated by the company was extremely shabby.

I could speak about this issue and many other issues for 20 minutes but I have only two minutes' speaking time. One of the issues that needs to be cleared up is the possibility that employees aged over 60 may not be entitled to full severance of six weeks per year worked capped at two years' pay and declining on a sliding scale. They are potentially being placed in a disadvantageous position.

The Minister stated that staff can take a severance package or be redeployed. The hours worked and the nature of individuals' duties and abilities mean it will not be possible to redeploy many of them. What will happen if there are not enough positions available elsewhere for those who opt for redeployment instead of the severance package? Will those who cannot be redeployed be made redundant? I have asked this question previously. The Minister and An Post should state that no one will be subject to mandatory redundancy. Positions should be made available for all staff who want to continue working for An Post.

The bottom line is that the mail centre should be kept open. The decision to close it is crazy and makes no sense. The McKinsey and Accenture reports should be published. It could be argued that the McKinsey report is a little out of date but my experience in this institution is that if the Government does not like the findings of a report, it puts in place another process, changes the criteria and ends up with a different outcome.

Government Ministers are claiming credit for the Portlaoise mail centre staying open. It needs to be clarified whether they had a part in this process.

I acknowledge the meeting between Deputy Micheál Martin and the chief executive of An Post but this issue has been in the ether for two years. An Post should have been told before now that it was not right to close the centre. Other Deputies did that and raised the matter in the House.

I am not aware of such communication.

The staff are very concerned. An Post's parcel responsibilities are expanding at a rapid rate. I understand that the ordinary sorting officers lower down the food chain, as it were, do not have the capacity to sort all the mail that comes from Portlaoise. Another smaller unit will probably have to be set up. Why can it not be set up in Little Island, thereby allowing the centre to retain some parcel responsibilities? The Minister and An Post should keep this centre open and save the jobs.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I thank the Deputies for introducing it. Many points have been made so I will cut to the chase. I spoke to many of the affected employees in the past week or ten days. They are absolutely devastated. Some of them have been treated in a disgusting manner. While senior staff met in hotels, these people were doing their jobs. All of a sudden, they have been told it is all over.

When I raised this matter last October I was told there was nothing to worry about. That is no longer the case. Reference was made to the viability of the parcel centre in Little Island. I will not be disingenuous in respect of the other centres around the country. I told staff that I had been informed that the output in the Cork centre is equivalent to the combined output of two centres. For this reason, I do not accept the validity of the argument on viability.

I have also been told that this decision was made on the basis of location. As the Cork mail centre is on the most valuable site, it provides An Post with an opportunity for a quick flip at the expense of the employees, which is disgusting. I have also been told that the possibility of outsourcing the work to casual workers has been mooted if a smaller parcel service is opened on the outskirts of Cork city. That the company is also de-unionising is disgusting as well.

If Deputies cannot have the Accenture report, the employees should be given it so they at least know what is happening. Let them know the truth. This is devastating for Cork and the south. I urge the Minister to revisit this matter and be as fair as possible to everybody involved. All the centres should be kept open and the service invested in properly.

I do not understand this decision. The Minister cannot sit there with a straight face and say this matter has nothing to do with him. Ministers are claiming responsibility for ensuring the centres in their localities stayed open. If Ministers are taking the credit for this decision, they are either doing so falsely or they have some influence. If they have influence, I question why the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has no influence in this matter. The Tánaiste is from Cork and I do not see why he does not have the same degree of influence as the other Ministers who seem to believe they are the sole reason the mail delivery centres in their areas will remain open.

I do not understand the decision from an economic point of view. Cork will double in population in the coming decades. While the mail centre in Cork may be running below capacity, the volume of mail going through the centre is still higher than the volume going through two other centres combined. The Little Island centre is the most modern of An Post's mail centres and can be more easily adapted than the others to meet future needs.

A number of Deputies described this decision as another attack on rural Ireland. I am sure that is the case and any attack on rural Ireland should be called out. However, the impact of this decision is not confined to rural areas. Many of those who will lose their jobs are from working class areas across my constituency, Deputy Barry's constituency and the constituencies of Cork South-Central and Cork East. This is not just a rural issue; it is an issue of workers losing their jobs and the Government sitting on its hands saying it has no part to play in this. That is just not good enough. This amendment will pass tomorrow and the Minister needs to start thinking about what he will do when that happens. If he believes he can come into the Chamber, press the red button to vote against the amendment and then have no further role to play after that, he is wrong. He has to do something.

The Labour Party is giving two minutes of its time to the non-aligned Deputies.

When I raised this issue in November, I believe I was the first of the Cork Deputies to raise it. I brought it up again six days ago. I do not believe there is an economic justification for the closure of the Little Island mail centre in Cork. I would like to examine the justification for the decision in greater detail because we have not seen a detailed justification. To provide clarity for the proposers of the original motion, our amendment seeks clarity on the McKinsey report. The Minister has not come before the House to explain to us, chapter and verse, what is in the McKinsey report. We have now heard from Deputy Micheál Martin about the Accenture report. As the Minister stated, McKinsey and Company was commissioned to do a report in 2016 but we do not have sight of any information on the engagement between An Post and McKinsey, nor do we know what recommendations were made arising from that interaction.

It is a fair assumption that the Cork centre was not the one that was slated for closure. I believe there was a politically expedient decision to close Cork on the basis that it was the path of least resistance. This process should be stalled pending a further interrogation by this House in respect of the decisions that have been made about Cork.

I say this with some justification. If the previous Minister can come before the House and create a scenario whereby he seeks some sort of moral authority in respect of the increase in the cost of a stamp to €1, and if this House gives that Minister some impetus to do that on the basis that we want to give An Post a fighting chance, then I also believe that we have the right in this House, given there is a public interest at stake, to interrogate the decisions in respect of Cork.

I have already rehashed the arguments in two previous interventions in this House in respect of the increase in revenue and the loss of retail business, so I will not go over them again. However, when revenue is increasing, the profit line is increasing and the company says it is moving into the parcels business, why would it then hive off one of the parcels centres as an area of activity and close it? That does not stack up and I do not understand it.

Notwithstanding all of that, An Post's administrative costs, according to its annual reports, have ramped up as a percentage of sales and, specifically in 2018, went from €55.9 million to €63.9 million, which gives it an extra €8 million. To quote directly from a journal.ie post on 17 March, in its official rebranding An Post has spent €5 million, changed the colouring of its logo and created a fictional millennial character called Ciara, and there is a whole blurb about the future direction of An Post. Therefore, in these two examples, there is already €13 million that we have not had sight of or had an opportunity to interrogate. Yet, we in this House are expected to accept at face value the closure of a vital, modern and relatively new centre. I refuse to accept the justification for the closure of this centre until such time as we have a proper process by which we can interrogate those decisions on the basis that there is a public interest issue at stake.

With respect to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, he said to me on the record of the Dáil on 20 November last year, when I first raised this issue, that “it must be borne in mind that this is a public company that has a commercial responsibility”. We have the right to interrogate that relationship between Government and An Post on the basis that we cannot accept an at face value everything An Post is telling us in regard to rationalisation of services at a time when its revenue is increasing. We want the opportunity to protect jobs and to give those workers a fighting chance. We need to know exactly how much has been paid to Accenture and to McKinsey thus far by An Post. While it is talking about savings and rationalisation, one could argue that the spend on consultants and on rebranding would have saved any number of jobs at the Cork mail centre.

I support the motion. We have put forward an amendment and I have clarified the rationale behind it. If it is the case that the decision is made absolutely and we are not given an opportunity in the House to interrogate that decision further, then our amendment seeks to ensure those workers get the best possible terms and conditions. We want to speak for those workers, if that is the case. Nobody has given up the fight, however. This is the third time I am on my feet in this House, trying to defend those workers on the basis of a set of rational arguments that I seek to put forward based on the criteria that have been presented to us, despite the lack of transparency in the process in regard to how An Post has dealt with this issue.

The news on 26 June was devastating for the workers in Cork mail centre. I have raised questions about the management going down late in the evening to inform workers before the board meeting the following day, where they were going to make the official announcement that Cork mail centre was the one. I support the motion and I am glad it is being discussed in the House. I am a member of the Communications Workers' Union, CWU, and I have been talking to the union about this issue. Deputy Micheál Martin read from a circular that was sent around to An Post employees about the closure of the mail centre, and he has already dealt with some of the points I wanted to raise.

What is happening in An Post with regard to the reduction in the volume of letters being delivered is a phenomenon due to the change over to email and the change in the way people are communicating. The reality is that the volume of business has gone down to 50% and even less in some areas. I have been talking to the CWU about this over the past year and it is obviously very concerned. It knew the Labour Relations Commission recommendation from 2017 had indicated that one mail centre should close and, in essence, the four mail centres where workers were working were all fearful of the news that was going to come down the road. If it was not the Cork mail centre, it was going to be the Athlone mail centre, the Portlaoise mail centre or the Dublin mail centre. The reality is that the reduction in the volume of letters means we have to change, and the workers and the unions have to adapt in regard to building a service around the parcels business.

More of this is going to happen in the next period, for example, with regard to workers in fossil fuel industries. We will have to ensure there are strong unions so that, when changes come about in those industries, there are jobs elsewhere for those workers and redeployment opportunities.

The situation with the letters business is different from the Government's position on rural post offices in general. It was this Government that encouraged people to go online and to not go through the post office for many of the services people would have relied on, and this had an impact on postmasters and postmistress being able to keep local post offices going. There was a different policy by the Government that regard.

The reality is the mail centre has closed. I believe it should remain open pending the development of the parcels service in Cork and the distribution of that service. From talking to my union colleagues, I know there has already been agreement that An Post is going to modify the GPO in Cork to take on the extra packaging involved. I do not know how practical that is and how much room there is for the Cork post office to expand and to take in extra parcels and packaging.

The second part of the motion calls on An Post to enter negotiations with the workers' trade union representatives. That is in place. The CWU, knowing this was coming down the line, set up a monitoring group to ensure that workers would not be treated badly and that they would get options of voluntary redundancy or redeployment, and that it is not just in the Cork mail centre but around the country that those voluntary redundancies would be offered. The union has a commitment that the workers will be offered evening jobs in the parcels area in Cork. The union is confident enough at this stage that no worker will be forced to take redundancy, or at least that is its feeling at the moment. If it believes there are to be forced redundancies, it will go to the Labour Court and to the monitoring group to ensure those workers are represented from that point of view.

This is devastating for families who were last week forced to face a precarious future.

The union was prepared for this. It knew it was going to happen and how it could potentially impact on workers. Union officials visited the mail centre over the last week to talk to union members. On the point regarding a new centre that will employ workers who are not union members, the CWU will be representing its members to ensure that does not happen.

It struck me that two thirds of the 240 jobs are part-time. This shows the way work has changed over the last number of years. Permanent full-time workers are now outnumbered by part-time workers. It is important that part-time workers join a union to ensure they are represented when things change. We do have to adapt to change.

The increase in parcel services should maintain these jobs rather than result in workers losing their jobs. The union will represent the postal workers to the best of its ability. It is a bad day for people in Cork. It could have been a day for people in Portlaoise, Athlone or Dublin if the mail centres in those areas had closed as well. We have to ensure that no worker at the Cork mail centre is forced to take redundancy or give up his or her job. As I said, the union has put in place a structure to ensure that does not happen. It is confident that no worker, other than those who wish to do so on their own terms, will have to leave a job.

It is worthwhile having this debate and calling for the Cork mail centre to remain in the ownership of An Post to be used to develop the parcel service such that the current workforce can be maintained and additional workers can be recruited into the future to deliver that service. I again welcome the motion.

I am glad to support my colleagues on the other side of the border. While it should not make any difference, I should put on the record that I am a postmaster of a rural post office. Having looked at the figures in terms of the savings that will be made, I believe this was a political decision to take out Cork. The Government took the view that the local economy in Cork would better absorb the hit than the other two areas in which there are mailing centres. I do not agree with it. I think it is ill-thought out. A lot of the methodology in which An Post has engaged in the last ten years, in my humble opinion, leaves a lot to be desired. I know that many of the An Post workers listening to this debate would want the issue of collection and delivery, C&D, allowances raised. These are allowances that are not being paid to people who entered the An Post service after 2007. For the benefit of those who do not understand what this means, in blunt terms it means they are not getting €50 or €60 per week to which they are entitled. As things stand, one employee is in receipt of €50 or €60 per week more than another employee who is doing the same work. The latter are being denied €50 or €60 per week, which is a lot in anybody's language. It is a lot of money for those paying mortgages and struggling.

To the workers directly affected by this closure, all I can do is support the Deputies who represent them, for example, Deputy Micheál Martin, and others. My job is to support the motion and to thank those who brought it forward. It provides us with the opportunity to show An Post that we are not going to sit idly by and keep our mouths shut while mail centres are closed. It is our job to support this motion. In regard to redeployment, I find it hard to see how those affected will get jobs of equal financial recompense in a short timeframe.

I welcome the motion. The decision by An Post to close the Cork mail centre by March 2020 will result in the loss of 240 jobs, which will have a devastating affect on the workers and their families. These staff have been hardworking and loyal and this is how they are being repaid. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is on record in regard to the need for An Post to be commercially viable. This Government has no problem throwing money down the Swanee on grossly overrun projects such as the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan. It has a neck to cut jobs now because it wants An Post to be commercially viable. What about all the taxpayers' money that has been wasted on project overruns? The Government has nothing to say on that issue.

What is crazy about all this is that An Post has turned the corner and entered profitability yet the staff who worked tirelessly to make it profitable are being discarded with nothing but a thank you for all their hard work and effort. The Government cannot stand idly by, as it did when An Post closed the post offices in Allihies, Ballineen, Drinagh and Minane Bridge. Most of the post office closures were in Cork. Cork is the pick of the deal when it comes to An Post. If there is any cut to be made, it will be made in Cork and west Cork.

It makes no sense that in the future a letter posted in Goleen and destined for Schull, a distance of 15 km, will have to travel 280 km to Portlaoise and 270 km back to Schull. I am no ecologist but a journey of 550 km is one hell of a carbon footprint. How can the Government justify this in the context of climate change and the need to reduce our carbon emissions? The closure of the Cork mail centre is one more attack on rural Ireland. It is a case of one step forward, two steps back yet this Government insists it is making progress.

I am happy to speak on this important motion. I note the decision of An Post to close the Cork mail centre by March 2020, with the loss of 240 jobs and the devastating affect this decision will have on the workers concerned and their families. There is an increasing sense among communities that An Post is deliberately moving away from a model based on supporting communities towards a solely profit driven model. This is happening under the watch of the Minister, Deputy Bruton. We accept that An Post has to make profit if it is to succeed but what is happening is to be deeply regretted. We know that An Post returned to growth and profit in 2017 following a restructuring of the business and an increase in the price of a stamp to €1, which I voted against at the time. Along with the previous two speakers, I am a small business owner. If we increased our prices by 30% we would be out of business the day after doing so. An Post did it and it made €140 million and a profit of €8.4 million. An Post has no sense that this money and these profits are being generated through the good will and custom of communities and its employees. Where is the sense of public obligation? It is non-existent.

I agree with the motion that this is a very short-sighted action by An Post in Cork. The motion makes clear that the Government's Project Ireland 2040 and national development plan targets are to make Cork the fastest growing city in Ireland for the next two decades with a 2040 population of 320,000. It even took in part of west Cork to County Cork to make it bigger. When it comes to this Government, one hand does not know what the other is doing. It is shambolic.

Yesterday, on the Order of Business I asked the Minister, Deputy Bruton, about the relocation of the post office in Liberty Square in Thurles to a private shopping centre anchored by Dunnes Stores. I spoke an hour ago with the planners. Huge issues have arisen in regard to this shopping centre. Work has stopped. When I raised this issue yesterday, the Minister told me that work has recommenced. It has recommenced in spite of the fact that Tipperary County Council has issued warning letters for non-compliance to the anchor tenant, Dunnes Stores. This Government thinks it can ride roughshod over everybody. An ordinary man building a kitchen or an extension in respect of which he did not get planning would be stopped in his tracks. The council has not issued an enforcement order; it has issued a warning letter for non-compliance across a huge area in that development to which it is proposed to relocate the post office. The Minister is happy to stand over relocating the post office to a building that is non-compliant with fire regulations and building regulations. It is also in breach of Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, guidelines, with run-off into the river and so on. It is a catastrophe. If the EPA was acting properly, it would close it down. A road which is supposed to be used for emergency access is being used every day. Earlier today, concrete was being mixed on it. Plastering of the inside of the building continues even though it is non-compliant. Is the Minister going to stand over this?

Can An Post or the anchor tenant, whichever is responsible, break the rules at will? Can a semi-State body override the rules of the county council and everybody else? It is disgraceful carry-on.

We have been debating An Post and its dilemma for some time in these Chambers, usually in the context of small rural post offices closing. I remember a time when there was a big row in this House about which Minister was responsible, whether it was the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Minister for Rural and Community Development or the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is like a football that has been kicked around from Department to Department without anyone ever really getting a hold on what was happening. This has been happening for a long time.

The main argument has been that the financial position of the company was on a knife-edge and that it needed to cut jobs. It instigated pay freezes at one stage and it was argued that the closure of rural post offices was essential. This seems to be hinted at as the justification of the closure of Little Island with the loss of 240 jobs. When one looks at the facts, one sees that since the Labour Court recommendation in 2017, the company recently announced that a revenue of €897 million in 2018, an increase of 7% on the previous year. During the last Christmas period, we saw a substantial increase in mail volume, with parcel volumes increasing by 50% from the previous year, with 100,000 postal deliveries a day and record sales of postage stamps. We see continued growth in parcel and e-deliveries. I think that a Sinn Féin Deputy mentioned that in a city which is meant to double its population over the coming period, this seems like a crazy planning decision which the Minister should look at again. It certainly is not climate-proofed. As has been said by several Deputies, the distances that trucks etc. will have to travel without this mail delivery centre do not do anything for the competency of the company or for the possibility of reducing our carbon emissions.

I do not think it is a narrow decision made on a commercial basis. We can blow that out of the water. There was a Labour Court recommendation in which there was agreement with the unions that a centre would close. It is extraordinary when one looks at Athlone and Portlaoise, with only 32 miles between them, that a political decision was made to close Cork. That is not to argue that any of them should close; I would argue that we should keep all three open. This company has turned a corner and we have just gone through the figures to show how. In addition, we also have a company with a history where, at the very moment that parcel deliveries were taking off, it closed the SDS centre on the Naas Road. It seems to have a history of making ill-judged and badly-timed decisions about its business. We are on the cusp of doing something about broadband. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and Minister of State, Deputy Canney, sitting opposite us have consistently said that we need this and will not do without it. They have said that rural broadband will be delivered come hell or high water. If we are to deliver rural broadband on the scale envisaged and for people to have access to it to buy online, surely the volume in parcel deliveries will increase even more. Consider the distance that those parcel vans will have to travel.

The closure of the rural post offices has had a devastating effect on towns and villages. The closure of Little Island will have a devastating effect on the decent, unionised, pensionable jobs that the population there can enjoy. I have no confidence in the proposal that a jobs fair or redeployment scheme will protect the lifestyle, wages and income of those workers. We may see many of them being forced into precarious non-unionised and low-paid jobs because that is the economy that we are living in. Instead, this Government should subsidise An Post with an amount that will keep it alive and vibrant. This would keep pensionable jobs that allow people to spend money that goes back into the economy. It is not rocket science. What is going on here is that people are being told to move over and make way for the great lord, competition. If any company wants to set up and compete with An Post on the same scale, this Government will facilitate it to do so, as it has done in facilitating every aspect of competition. We want to see the workers in Little Island protected and their jobs ring-fenced. I do not have the same level of confidence that some Deputies seem to enjoy in the union. After all, it did the deal and instead of fighting to keep those jobs when the economy has been turned around, it has been much too silent on the issue.

The closure of the mail centre in Cork has been presented as a done deal by An Post, backed up by the Government and apparently by a report; the media narrative that it is inevitab; the Labour amendment to propose to accept redundancies; and, the national union leadership which locked into the closure of at least one of the centres nationally. I would say to workers not to let their fate be decided by other people. Workers have been told the news this week. We encourage them to come together to discuss how this can be reacted to. Workers are not powerless. We saw it with the transport strikes and with the nurses and midwives. Opposing the closure and defending jobs is a viable and necessary option. The reality of the Fine Gael narrative is that it says there is full employment and there is even a suggestion that people can go and get another job anywhere. What kind of job? Jobs that are precarious, low-paid and which have poor pension and other entitlements are the order of the day.

What could workers do to maintain these jobs? Political pressure is vital. We all know that the Government has influence, as does its partner in government, Fianna Fáil. There will shortly be a by-election in Cork and also a general election in the near future. Some 240 workers and their families can have an impact on those elections. They could organise a public meeting of workers, booking a huge hotel for it, to which all parties and candidates would be invited and left with a message that, in no uncertain terms, workers do not want to accept redundancies and that this decision must be reversed. The idea that unity is strength is important. The attempt to pit one mail centre against another, with Cork against Athlone or Portlaoise, should be rejected. An Post workers can unite. The workers from the four mail centres could meet to discuss a united campaign against closure of any of the centres.

There is significant potential to increase jobs in the parcel sector. That is the message of this motion tonight. We all know and do not need to be told that posting letters is no longer common. A ComReg survey in 2015 showed the exponential growth of the parcel sector. An Post is already the largest player of this, with 40% of the sector. There are seven other much lesser players. Why would a company which is the key player in a sector allow a modern centre in the second city of the country to be closed down when it could be expanded to facilitate its growth into the parcel sector? Some 64% of Irish consumers had parcels delivered by post. Some 50% now shop online. Online shopping has increased fivefold in just three years. Small businesses spend €11,000 to €15,000 on parcel delivery every year; it is a significant growing sector. This motion argues that there is no need for any job losses in An Post. This should be diversified into the parcel sector. There is potential for support from other An Post workers in Cork. For example, many casual workers will lose out in the other depots in Cork if this centre closes because they will not be able to get casual or part-time work there. The idea that an injury to one is an injury to all is the old trade union slogan that the unions were built on. A one-day strike in Cork would send a message to An Post. Actions such as these would send a signal to the company and the political parties that jobs matter.

The Labour Party amendment is the opposite of what I have just advocated and contrary to what Deputy Sherlock himself said. It cuts out any idea of opposing the closure of the mail centre and just argues about accepting redundancies.

From the very outset, that is cutting across the workers having any ability to fight. I even heard a claim from the Labour Party saying that we would cut across people getting redundancies. I will finish with a quotation from Rosa Luxemburg who was a socialist and a trade unionist 100 years ago. When they were fighting for the eight-hour day she said:

It is clear that you must not demand a ten-hour day if you want the eight-hour day. Do the contrary and you’ll do well: if there is any possibility of getting legislation to limit working time to ten hours, it is only by constantly pressing for an eight-hour day.

I urge the leadership of the CWU nationally not to lock itself in, and not to manage the closure of the centre but to discuss expansion into the parcel sector with the local workforce.

An Post's announcement that it is to close its mail centre has undoubtedly been very difficult for An Post's workers, their families and the wider Cork area. The Government very much welcomes the commitment by An Post that all staff will be offered strong exit packages and redeployment opportunities within An Post's delivery and post office networks in the Cork area, where nearly 1,000 people are currently employed. In addition, further education grants and support in securing jobs with new employers will be provided. All relevant State supports will be made available to workers impacted by the announcement.

An Post has committed to dealing with the closure and its impact on workers affected in a sensitive manner. I am pleased to note that An Post has engaged, and is continuing to engage, with the CWU to ensure the best possible outcome for affected staff. I understand that the union is working closely with the company in terms of how to deal with the immediate impact on employees.

The financial challenges facing An Post have been well documented and, as Deputies will be aware, are primarily due to the impact of email and other forms of online communication on mail volumes. In this context, An Post faced growing losses and has had to undertake a major restructuring of its business to continue to be able to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities across the country. There is widespread acceptance that elements of the company require modernisation to build, maintain and protect a service that meets the needs of communities. Much time and effort has been spent in the past two years working to restructure An Post. The work was critical in order to save it and protect thousands of jobs and the post office network across the country.

In the face of the serious declines in the volume of mail and post office business, the board of An Post oversaw the preparation of a strategic plan setting out a transformation of the company in both the mail and retail business. An Post has advised that as part of the process a lot of detailed work was done to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place to adapt to the rapidly changing mail and parcel business.

Reflecting its commitment to sustaining a nationwide post office network and daily mail service, the Government made €30 million available in State funding which is being used to support the renewal of the post office network, which will require €15 million, and the continued fulfilment of a five-day per week mail delivery service, which will cost another €15 million. As An Post is a commercial State body, the support was provided by way of a loan.

Critically important decisions have been made and An Post has been stabilised because of the action that has been taken. The implementation of the strategic plan is continuing to yield results. An Post has gone from being in a very precarious financial position to making a profit. However, as its chief executive has noted, An Post is "not out of the woods yet". It has taken a major effort to deliver the recovery but it will require greater efforts again to ensure the sustainability of the company and the jobs it provides across the country.

An Post employs 9,000 staff and it continues to have a strong rural focus. As noted earlier, An Post will employ almost 1,000 people in the Cork area. It is important to understand the extent of An Post's footprint in rural Ireland and the need to protect the employment the company provides across the country. A total of 6,000 of An Post's employees are outside Dublin and 4,700 are outside cities. Some 79% of An Post's post offices and 80% of its delivery facilities are also outside cities.

The closure of a mail centre was considered by the Labour Court in its recommendation of September 2017. The recommendation was that payment of a 2% pay increase from 1 July 2017 was conditional on necessary cost savings being achieved. One of the requirements of the recommendation was the conclusion of discussions in relation to An Post's proposal to reduce the size of its mail processing network. The recommendation provides that 50% of the savings arising from the closure of a mail centre would contribute towards the cost of the pay award. Following extensive consideration, the Cork mail centre was assessed by An Post as being the most suitable for closure. Currently, the Little Island plant is operating at below 25% capacity as mail volumes continue to decline. Letter processing to and from the Munster region will be incorporated into existing operations in Portlaoise and Dublin. There will be no impact on service quality or mail delivery times for customers in the south west.

An Post has indicated that the closure will result in savings of €11 million per year and that the company will invest €15 million in its parcel infrastructure in Cork and the wider region over the next three years. Parcel volumes are increasing dramatically due to the growth of online shopping. A total of 1,040 parcel lockers are being installed across Cork city and county to make collections more convenient for customers and a major parcel delivery centre for Cork will open by 2022. A new, all-electric fleet with zero emissions, will be rolled out for deliveries and collections in Cork city within weeks, extending to Kinsale, Bandon, Midleton and Mallow from next year. A new €750,000 mail delivery unit to serve the Skibbereen area will open next month. Cork's GPO in Oliver Plunkett Street is to undergo a major refurbishment reflecting the rapidly growing range of services being developed for customers.

Where such difficult decisions have to be made, they must be made in the best interests of the company, its employees and its customers by the board which has been put in place to lead and direct An Post. As such, it would not be appropriate for a Minister to intervene and instruct An Post to reverse its decision, as the motion proposes. There is no doubt that continued transformation of the postal business will be difficult and will require tough decisions but the new changes are designed to make An Post fit for a future where the organisation can be confident, robust, and begin growing again.

Before moving on to the main issues I will start by referring to two small points that came up in the course of the debate. The Minister was asked about the McKinsey report. He seemed to indicate that there was no such report. He indicated that McKinsey had been involved in the process since 2016 and had been working with An Post but there was not a report, as such. That is a very surprising and an interesting development because the McKinsey report has been spoken about and batted back and forth quite a bit recently. For the first time we have an indication that it may not exist. I ask the Minister to clarify that point after the debate. Perhaps the media might be interested in asking about it as well.

More importantly, we learn of a second report, the Accenture report, which Deputy Micheál Martin got to glance at when he met the CEO of the company yesterday. That report should be made public. There should be no secret report when we are looking at the future of An Post and the future of the Cork mail centre and 240 jobs. The Minister should publish the report.

I can report to the House that An Post has been invited to come in here next Wednesday, 10 July from 9 a.m. to 12 noon to answer questions at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment on this and other issues. An Post must take up that invitation and not refuse it and try to be out the gap for the summer. We will put pressure on An Post to do that. We want to question it about this.

In terms of the more substantive issues. The Minister said that this was not a short-term decision. It flies in the face of all the information and data that have been given in the course of this debate about the boom in parcel deliveries. The argument has been made that Cork was chosen instead of another mail centre because it might be easier to redeploy staff in Cork. I do not believe that the welfare of the staff was a serious consideration in the matter. I believe that the key consideration was that An Post felt it could get serious money from the sale of the building and the site.

Rather than retaining an asset, it felt it could strip assets and opt for a short-term quick buck at a time when parcel delivery is booming and when the building could be extremely valuable to the company.

The Minister stated that the company intends to invest €15 million in parcel delivery and hubs in Cork over the next couple of years. That is an important point. There is speculation as to where the site might be. Will it be in Ballincollig, Carrigtwohill or, perhaps, Watergrasshill? More important, what will be the wages of the workers in the hub? What will be the conditions of those workers? What will happen if staff lose their jobs in the Cork mail centre and end up working in the hubs? Will they carry over their wages and conditions? I am of the view that it is the intention of An Post to drive down wages and alter workers' conditions. This must be seen in the context of an attempt to organise a race to the bottom.

Deputy Coppinger raised extremely important points on the potential of the workers to resist the closure and push back against it. She raised the fact that there is likely to be a by-election in Cork in the next six months and possibly a general election shortly thereafter. She rightly stated that represents an opportunity to the workers. At a mass meeting attended by all the workers and their families, as well as An Post workers from throughout the Cork region, a clear message could be given to the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil representatives in attendance that they should reverse the decision quickly or there will not be a single vote for them or their parties from a mail centre worker or An Post worker, or a member of their families, in the Cork region, be it in the by-election or general election. One should remember that An Post workers deliver mail through letter boxes and have the ability to put messages through letterboxes in that regard.

The workers have industrial power. They have the ability to withdraw their labour. There needs to be a united approach involving the workers in Athlone, Portlaoise, Dublin and Cork. Someone said it was a good day for the workers in Athlone when they learned Athlone would not be affected. It was not a good day for them. It is a bad day for every mail centre worker and every An Post worker if one of the centres - it is Cork in this case - is to close. If Cork is closed more easily, the company will target Portlaoise and Athlone more easily. Maybe the vision of An Post is to have one centre for mail and parcels, heavily automated and with workers on lower wages and with poorer conditions. It is in the interest of all mail centre and An Post workers to resist this.

The idea of strike action by united mail centre workers and An Post workers, first, perhaps, in the Cork area and involving a one-day stoppage, would send a very clear message to An Post management, the political establishment and big parties in the run-up to a by-election.

There are important votes on these issues tomorrow. I want to make a few points about this. The Government is opposing the motion and tabling an amendment supporting the closure. That is what I expected it to do. I will not comment on that. Let me consider the Labour Party. Deputy Sherlock stated that there is no economic justification for closure. I agree with him 100%. If he believes that, he should withdraw his party's amendment. The effect of the Labour Party amendment is to take out of the motion the only sentence stating the closure must be opposed and stopped and that influence must be brought to bear on An Post to stop it. Why would one support an amendment that takes that sentence out of the motion if one believes there is no economic justification for the closure? Deputy Sherlock is not present but he will be watching the debate. I appeal to him to withdraw the Labour Party amendment if he believes that there is no economic justification for the closure. If the Labour Party does not withdraw its amendment, I shall appeal to all other Deputies who are not in government, including those in Fianna Fáil, to vote for the Solidarity motion and put pressure on the Government to put pressure on An Post to prevent the closure and save the 240 jobs. I ask mail centre and An Post workers in Little Island, Cork and beyond to contact their public representatives tonight and appeal to them to vote in support of this motion tomorrow. Fianna Fáil holds the balance on this vote. If it votes one way, the motion will be rejected. If it votes the other way, the motion will be carried. Fianna Fáil must support this motion tomorrow and oppose the closure of the Cork mail centre. Mail centre workers and An Post workers should make their views known tonight in this regard. I do not believe that a majority vote by the Dáil will resolve this matter. The Government has made clear already that it will attempt to ignore it. The opposition to the mail centre that can be most effective is the workers themselves organising to stop the closure but I am in favour of giving them the moral authority of a majority vote in the Dáil to say the national Parliament supports what my party is doing and that it is opposed to closure. That is how the national Parliament must vote tomorrow. If Deputies do not vote for this motion, this debate will have been nothing but hot air and words. We need to see some concrete support tomorrow.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 4 July 2019.