Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 27 Mar 2001

Vol. 533 No. 3

Priority Questions. - Postal Services.

Brian O'Shea


24 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the discussions she has had with representatives of An Post regarding the rural post office network; the matters discussed in this regard; the decisions reached; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9071/01]

The Government has given an explicit commitment to the retention of the rural sub-post office network in the White Paper on Rural Development. I have also publicly indicated my firm support for this policy on numerous occasions. It was in this context that I asked Mr. Phil Flynn in February last year to assist An Post and the Irish Postmasters Union to progress discussions in which these parties were engaged under the partnership process regarding the future of the post office network.

I have received Mr. Flynn's report and it will be on the Cabinet agenda next Tuesday. In his excellent report, which I will make available, Mr. Flynn outlines the serious financial difficulties facing An Post, together with a wide range of scenarios, options and recommendations to guarantee the future viability of the network. I will announce what action I propose to take on foot of the report when the Cabinet has completed its deliberations.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that £70 million will be required between 2000 and 2005 to keep rural post offices open? Is it true the Minister for Finance strongly opposes any subvention to the post office network? When the Minister goes to Government, will she seek that £70 million over the years 2000 to 2005?

Ministers for Finance are, by their nature, opposed to spending and that has nothing to do with the current Minister, Deputy McCreevy, the previous one, Deputy Quinn, or whoever is Minister for Finance. The minute they become Minister, they become disposed to minding the nation's money, and rightly so. That has always been the case with any Minister for Finance with whom I have dealt and the current Minister, Deputy McCreevy, is no different. He should be commended, not criticised, for that.

The details of Mr. Flynn's report were printed in great detail in a national newspaper and the Deputy's comments are based on that. I cannot go into detail until I bring the matter to Cabinet next Tuesday. I can say that it does not just involve the rural network. People have the idea that if all small rural post offices were closed in one fell swoop, the financial difficulties which beset the post office network would be cured at a stroke. However, that is not the case. As Mr. Flynn pointed out, many of the large urban post offices have the same difficulties. Definite proposals must be worked out for the future.

As I said earlier, the Government gave a commitment in the White Paper and I am committed to this area. I have no time for people who say that some of the smaller post offices are unnecessary. However, I wish more people used rural post offices. I have spoken to people who were worried about the possible closure of the local post office because nobody wanted to take it on, but when I asked them if they used the post office, it emerged that some of them had never been in it. There must be some flexibility from others. The matter will be on the Cabinet agenda next Tuesday and the report will be made public that day or the following day. I hope it will engender a lively debate.

When does the Minister anticipate a firm Government decision will be made with regard to An Post? Given that banks are closing sub-offices throughout the country, is the Minister committed to ensuring that the saving schemes that will be established under the Finance Bill are made available through post offices?

The issue of when the Government will make a decision will depend on the discussion at the Cabinet table next Tuesday. Regarding the Deputy's other point, is he referring to the Minister for Finance's proposed savings scheme?

I have not discussed the matter with the Minister for Finance or the Government but post offices have a long and good history of involvement in savings. In the past people had post office savings books and other banking facilities. However, I am wary of banks taking the easy way out by deciding to give some of their business to post offices to enable them to close some of their operations. That would not be a good development because it would make it too easy to close operations. However, a price would be involved if a bank is definite about closing a local branch and asks An Post to take on many of its services. Such moves may help in terms of the future viability of post offices.