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Post offices ‘extremely important’ service for towns

The school, the church, the sports club, the doctor’s and the post office.

Symbols of everyday life in communities the length and breadth of the country, rural and urban, for generations. Take them away, we hear, and it’s bye-bye community.

Over recent decades, some have declined in relevance and presence, while others have changed in other ways.

However, the post office remains one of those emotive bases to which we remain anchored and heaven help anyone who tries to take it away.

We are not unique in Ireland in this regard, just take a look at the recent and ongoing crisis across the Irish Sea in their postal network and the backdrop to the scandalous treatment of so many local postmasters has been the key role played by the post office in communities across the UK.

Here, thankfully, no such criminal mess has been experienced.

But whenever there’s any move to change/move or, worse, downgrade/close a local post office, it’s guaranteed to spark raised voices.

This weekend, for example, hundreds took to the streets in New Ross to warn against any change in the status of their post office.

This comes after a recent announcement by An Post that their outlet in the Co Wexford town was to change from being run directly by the company, to being owned and run by a yet-to-be-appointed postmaster.

A “high-level meeting,” took place Friday evening, after which An Post said that the contract for the post office will be advertised early next week.

“We have, however, given a commitment to work with the local authority or local development bodies on future usage of the post office building.”

In the meantime they are hoping to have the new postmaster, when appointed, working at the current building, located on Charles Street near the town’s quays, until the future use of the building is secure, An Post says.

Even before that breaking news, according to An Post there was “no question” of any reduction in postal or other services as a result of any change.

An Post says that more than 95% of the country’s 900-plus post offices are now run by postmasters, with fewer than 40 run directly by An Post

Nevertheless, it has generated much debate in the area which could be seen as a microcosm of similar developments elsewhere.

Despite An Post’s assurances, Fianna Fáil councillor for New Ross Michael Sheehan warned that the plans represent “a serious blow” to the town and said the protest went ahead to try to ensure there is no future loss of individual services which have traditionally been supplied at the post office.

He described the post office as “an institution” in the area and says it’s important that town centres are supported as much as possible to make them vibrant places to live, work and meet people.

Chair of New Ross Active Retirement Cellie Irwin said the post office is part of the local heritage.

“To me and my family, and I know an awful lot of other families in this town, I know it is an extremely important service to have,” she said.

While chair of Wexford IFA Jer O’Mahoney criticised An Post for what he described as their plans to “abdicate their responsibility”.

A spokesman for An Post said that any notion of downgrading the post office in New Ross, or its services, is not correct.

In Tipperary town, there’s been a similar uprising in recent weeks, following a similar announcement by An Post.

The post office there is to be taken over by a private postmaster and will no longer be run directly by An Post staff.

Local Sinn Féin politicians, including Martin Browne TD, initiated a petition calling on the company to guarantee that the service will remain in the centre of Tipperary town and that all currently-provided front desk services will be maintained, and this petition has attracted well over the target of 1,000 signatures.

“Anything but a town centre location cannot be accepted,” said councillors Tony Black and Annemarie Ryan Shiner, “and the people of Tipperary town need assurances that its post office will remain in the town centre”.

They point out that dereliction is already a problem on the local streets and say that moving the post office away from the centre would add to that issue.

An Post says that more than 95% of the country’s 900-plus post offices are now run by postmasters, with fewer than 40 run directly by An Post.

“The vast majority of post office customers across the country do their business every day in post offices owned and run by postmasters.”

Other areas where An Post followed a route now being pursued in New Ross and Tipperary include Phibsborough, Rathmines and Tallaght in Dublin, and Roscommon.

Meanwhile, in Cashel, Co Tipperary, post office front desk services are being relocated next month from the existing base on Main Street to the SuperValu.

Here, the service is already run by a contractor and there have been assurances that the move will not affect existing jobs.

Elsewhere in the county, just last week came news that the former post office building in Thurles, on Liberty Square, is being put up for sale.

Five years ago, there was a bitter campaign to retain the service at the town centre premises which ultimately proved fruitless, as the office moved south to the local shopping centre.

According to An Post, change need not be feared.

The company said: “Changing the business model of a post office does not impact on the level or variety of services which are available to customers. Continuation of service, and access to those services, is of key importance to An Post.

“All services available before the change remain available after the change.”

However, those words do not fully ease local concerns in some areas, as indicated by protests in the likes of New Ross.

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