I welcome the witnesses to the committee. I thank them for the overview and their report, which is informative, useful, and sends out a progressive and positive message about where An Post is at. I have followed the fortunes of An Post for some time, and over the years I have seen Ministers refusing to make decisions for political reasons, kicking to touch, and pushing An Post to the brink of insolvency. I commend the current management on effectively making decisions that have rescued the company from freefall, stabilised it and put it on a path of growth. I also welcome the fact that turnover and profitability are increasing.
I notice that there has been a huge change in the management structure of the company, which is a case of out with the old and in with the new. Older members of An Post made valuable contributions to the company over the years but times and circumstances have changed and it is important to have people in the company with modern skills and talents to address the opportunities that are there. There also have been many casualties along the way. We have lost many good people and many of those who gave great service to the company lost their jobs. We need to be sensitive to that. There has also been a diminution of services, particularly in the withdrawal of services from local parishes and communities, which has been very difficult for people to understand or accept.
It is important that the company has access to Government services. We cannot say it is a Government operation while at the same time not giving it the support it needs to devolve these services. As Deputy Dooley stated, it is important that we understand the issues and are given information about what efforts are being made and where the obstacles are. I sense there is a level of protectionism coming from existing organisations within the public service, which do not want to devolve services to An Post. Now that the hard decisions have been made with An Post, it is important that the company is allowed to deliver the services that are needed and required by a younger generation of people. Those services have changed, as have the demands and expectations of the quality of the service being delivered. The reality is that consumers will not accept anything other than a proper, full, and modern service. That is where we are at and that is where we need to be.
I was one of the members who asked for An Post to come before the committee initially, because there was a full-blown controversy going on in my own constituency at the time regarding the Thurles post office. I am sure plenty of comments will be made about the decision on the Cork mail centre as well. Change affects everybody, and if dramatic changes are made without prior notice or consultation, people will not understand the logic or rationale behind them, which makes it much more difficult for people to accept the decisions being made. It is hugely important to communicate, as is clear from the relocation of Thurles post office. There was no advance notice or pre-consultation on it and as a result, it was the subject of considerable protests and agitation. It unfortunately became very divisive in our local community. It left a sour taste, and An Post lost a lot of goodwill as a result of the way it was handled. The decision to relocate is having, and will have, a significant impact on the business community on Liberty Square. An Post coexisted with that business community and was part of the fabric of the local town for over 100 years, therefore it was a dramatic change and a big shock for that to happen.
I have seen the new centre in Thurles and it is impressive. Much of the public has welcomed the wide range of new services provided through a modern network. I am happy there continues to be a flagship post office in Thurles. What will happen to the vacated premises? It is in a prime location in the town centre and we want to ensure that it will be put back into use, whether for private or public service, at the earliest opportunity.
Two other issues are important in the context of the service An Post provides in Thurles. There is a question about the parking available for older people at the shopping centre. There need to be designated parking spaces for people who are unable to walk up ramps or access higher levels in the carpark. There is also a need for a bus stop outside the shopping centre. The bus stops at Liberty Square but it needs to stop closer to the shopping centre in order that people can access the post office.
Traditionally, An Post has been strongly associated with the delivery of social welfare entitlements. What percentage of pensioners visit a post office to collect their pension? From meeting older people, I detect they often prefer to receive their pension online, which reduces the footfall to post offices throughout the country. What is the trend in that regard?
I reiterate that the committee supports An Post in its efforts to promote access to, and to deliver, government services. It has made fantastic strides in an area where it should have been active years ago, namely, in the processing of parcels, which has proved lucrative. The public will appreciate and use the post office network if there is access to government services. It is important that An Post give the committee the information that is needed for us to put pressure on the various Departments to co-operate with it.