An Post forced to play down closures
Company rows back on CEO’s figure of 400 shut offices
AN Post was forced last night to play down suggestions by its own boss that as many as 400 post offices could close over the next four years.
Earlier yesterday CEO of An Post David McRedmond predicted that in the longer term the network could between ‘700 to 900’.
There are currently 1,116 post offices in the country, 50 of which are run directly by An Post.
However the organisation last night insisted there is ‘no decision’ on the final number of branches which will close.
‘There is no suggestion of 400 Post Offices closing. There is no decision on final numbers or locations.
However, An Post’s head of corporate communications confirmed to the Irish Daily Mail last night that cost-cutting will happen going forward, saying: ‘We have to get costs under control and accept the realities of the modern retail business, population shifts and the digital world.’
Earlier, CEO Mr McRedmond sparked fears of hundreds of closures when he told RTÉ’s Radio 1: ‘What I’m saying is, post offices will inevitably close – everybody knows that. People in populations have moved. There are post offices with no customers and inevitably it’s very hard for those postmasters to stay open.
‘Will it be 800 [staying open]? Will it be 900? I can’t say for sure. I would guess it would be somewhere within that region of maybe 700 to 900. I think that’s what the number will be. It could be fewer. Who’s saying they’re going to close? There’s a possibility of anything happening in the country over the next four years. What we’re guaranteeing is that there’ll be at least that number.’
Mr McRedmond said the decision to keep post offices open depends on postmasters as he pledged to keep post offices in communities of more than 500 people. ‘We’ll also make sure that we have post offices on all the islands, and we’ll make sure that everybody is within reasonable distance of a post office. I can’t say what that total will be. I can’t say what it’s going to be in four years’ time,’ he said.
‘We get calls from postmasters all the time who are saying that their business is gone away from their post office, but there’s bigger post offices nearby who are picking up that business and they’ll likely close. We know that there’s many offices in that position.
General secretary of the Irish Postmasters’ Union Ned O’Hara refused to comment on post office closures until after the group holds an emergency general meeting tomorrow. Members will decide what course of action will be taken, but Mr O’Hara ruled out strike action.
‘The issues are that postmasters’ earnings are continually reduced. Bobby Kerr was commissioned by the Government two years ago to do a report and it’s sitting on a shelf since last December,’ he said.
He added: ‘There are a range of government services which Bobby Kerr said should be made available in post offices but they’re not. Post offices can’t just decide what’s made available – it’s up to the Government and An Post to allow us to sell the services. A lot of forgotten people use the post office – 1.7million people every week. They’re not the fashionable or the “in” crowd. They’re not jumping up and down and they’re just being forgotten about, particularly in rural Ireland where services are withdrawn and there’s no bus service or Garda station. ’
Séamus Boland, chief executive of the Irish Rural Link, said some people rely heavily on their local branch. He said of the closures: ‘To us it’s no great big surprise. Those numbers have been rattled around for a number of years. Our problem with it is we’ve still failed to examine the future of post offices in any sustainable way. The closures will affect older people, rural people. It looks like they’re going to close the rural ones.’
Justin Moran, Age Action Ireland spokesman, added: ‘We’d be really disappointed if these plans that are being reported in the media were to come to fruition. Older people depend on the post office, it’s an essential part of their lives and in many parts of the country it’s the main community hub.’
When asked when the recommendations of the Kerr Report would be implemented, Communications Minister Denis Naughten said a strategic review of An Post was nearing completion. ‘The outcome of the review will impact on the extent to which the recommendations of the report can be implemented,’ he said.
He added that the Government was committed to a sustainable post office network.
Fianna Fáil’s communication spokesman Timmy Dooley demanded that the Government do everything it can to maintain as many post offices as possible.