OPINION from Denis Naughten
During my term as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I developed a strategy with An Post to protect it from financial collapse and to use the An Post-owned post offices, such as Roscommon Town, as a focal point for the development of banking services and other Government services.
This would have resulted in an expansion of the range of services in the Roscommon Post Office as well as the use of additional space in the building for new State-supported services. This included designating Roscommon Post Office as a one-stop-shop for all Government services for those who did not wish to use online services, including motor tax, driving licences and passports.
Roscommon Post Office was also to be expanded to develop a community banking service, to provide an alternative to the existing banks and to support the development of banking services in the smaller post offices throughout County Roscommon. Key to this was the retention of the ownership and control of the existing An Post post offices in 50 locations around the country, including Roscommon Town.
Sadly, these plans were not fulfilled by Government, and it now seems that An Post is set to relinquish direct control of such services, which is likely to undermine future plans for such services in Roscommon Town.
In the intervening years I have strongly advocated for the delivery of new Government services through the post office network, but this has failed to materialise. Furthermore, as Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank withdrew from (some of) our towns, I strongly argued that Government needed to urgently revisit the establishment of a State bank for SMEs and personal customers, through An Post and the local Credit Union network, which had the infrastructure, facilities and visibility within our communities.
Such a State bank could build on the two existing Government banks (Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland) to offer low interest rates to support both businesses and communities. Furthermore, such a bank could also provide Green Finance to homeowners, landlords and businesses to invest in a sustainable future.
Disappointingly, this type of support for An Post has not been forthcoming to date from Government which is at least in part resulting in the transition of the ownership of these iconic buildings and their services into private control.
*Denis Naughten is a former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and currently an Independent TD in Roscommon-Galway constituency