‘We have to take a stand’ special meeting is told
Politicians present at last Thursday’s special Council meeting expressed their frustration with An Post’s plans to switch its service in Roscommon Town to a contractor-led model, a direct consequence of which would be the closure of the existing post office building in the county town.
Cllr Orla Leyden said that An Post is not a private company, and is accountable to the public. “It has duties in terms of corporate governance” she added.
Emphasising the symbolic significance of the An Post HQ in Roscommon, Cllr Leyden said that each post office in any of Ireland’s county towns is like a “mini-GPO” and accordingly, the threat to Roscommon Post Office was “an assault on our republic”.
Strongly opposing any move to “privatise” the service locally, Cllr Leyden said that “we have to take a stand”. She also wondered if the fact that these changes have been proposed in a constituency where there is no “Government TD or Minister” is a coincidence.
Cllr Laurence Fallon said it is “extraordinary” that a State service no longer feels it necessary to have a HQ in a county town.
The Independent councillor said he feared this is a “done deal”. He also warned that if the service is taken up by a private postmaster, they could eventually close it if it’s not proving to be viable. Cllr Fallon said he was opposed to the service moving into (for example) a supermarket, and in his view the An Post plans should be resisted “as strongly as possible”.
Cllr Paschal Fitzmaurice said that it was clear to him that An Post wants to “get rid of staff” and “get rid of pensions”. Describing An Post’s shock announcement as “a retrograde step” he said it was a sad day for Roscommon Town.
Cllr Valerie Byrne said the plan to close the existing building is unfair. “How can they do this to elderly people? And to the staff? This is such a beautiful building, and there has been so much investment recently in the town centre. We have to put up a fight”.
Cllr Marty McDermott said people are “absolutely outraged” over An Post’s plans, adding that the proposed closure of the “beautiful, landmark building” had been met with disbelief locally.
Noting that Roscommon is reportedly the only county town (thus far) to be “targeted”, Cllr McDermott said a meeting with Minister Jack Chamber was now required and he was hopeful that Oireachtas members from Roscommon-Galway could help achieve a U-turn on the An Post proposals.
Cllr Tony Ward said that the closure of the existing Roscommon Post Office building at the Square would be a “huge blow” to the town and county.
This, he said, was an attack on the people of County Roscommon. Should the contractor-led model proceed, he believed it would be “easier” to close the service down in the future. Noting that the Ulster Bank had closed its branch in Roscommon Town, Cllr Ward suggested that An Post should expand its services at Roscommon Post Office to include provision of banking services.
‘Step too far’
Cllr Emer Kelly said the people of Roscommon cannot accept this decision. “This is a step too far and it’s unacceptable. An Post is breaking any record it has of trustworthiness with the public” she said, adding that the company is “afraid to engage in public”.
Cllr Kathleen Shanagher said it is “unbelievable” that the closure of the Roscommon Post Office building is now imminent. Citing the multimillion euro investment in the county town in recent years, she noted that much consideration had been given to the issue of access to Roscommon Post Office during the realignment of the Square.
Cllr Shanagher also asked what would happen if no one is awarded the tender (for a new postmaster). “Will An Post just close the doors?”
Cllr Michael Mulligan hit out at the “insulting responses” of An Post to Cllr John Keogh’s correspondence on behalf of the Council. Noting that County Roscommon has already suffered some high profile setbacks – he cited the “hospital fiasco”, the flooding at Lough Funshinagh and the closure of Castlerea Fire Station – Cllr Mulligan said it is now vital that a Council deputation, accompanied by Oireachtas members, meets with An Post management and Minister Jack Chambers. “Don’t leave the room until you have a yes (to a U-turn)… and get it in writing”.
Cllr Tony Waldron said the An Post proposal is another blow to the county, coming relatively soon after the closure of the Cuisle Centre in Donamon. Stating that the people of Roscommon “have had enough”, he said this threat to the post office service as currently structured must be fought “tooth and nail”.
Calling for a “new vision” for An Post, Cllr Waldron said the Government should look at the banking models in New Zealand and Germany. Citing the topical issue of the post office controversy in the UK, Cllr Waldron asked: “Has the ‘permanent Government’ (in Ireland) stopped listening to the elected representatives?”
Cllr John Naughten said he was opposed to the service being moved into a supermarket, as this would make matters more difficult for elderly people. Calling for An Post to remain in the existing building, he said the issue of providing extra services should be explored.
Cllr Nigel Dineen said that it is important to clarify for the public that the An Post service is not actually leaving the county town. He was aware that many people were under that impression. Cllr Dineen suggested that Minister Jack Chambers (who has responsibility for post offices) could reverse this decision.
Oireachtas members also addressed Thursday’s meeting. Deputy Claire Kerrane (Sinn Féin) said she had raised the issue in the Dail that day. Stressing that Oireachtas members in Roscommon-Galway are “united in fighting against it” Deputy Kerrane said if there is to be a compromise, the “last resort” should be that a new postmaster runs the service in the existing building.
She pointed out when post offices move into supermarkets, there tends to be “no privacy” and it also “removes the possibility of expansion”.
Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice wondered if Roscommon Chamber of Commerce should be spoken to with a view to an outcome whereby no local prospective interested party would apply for the postmaster contract. He also wondered why unions hadn’t raised these changes with politicians as it was becoming evident that the An Post plans had been hatching for “six to twelve months”.
Senator Eugene Murphy expressed his concern about An Post’s plans, noting that the company’s profits in 2022 were in the region of €900m. Noting that the service will not be leaving town, he indicated support for the status quo remaining.