Fears are growing for the future of post offices nationwide if the network loses the key business of dispensing cash payments to Social Welfare recipients.

A report by Grant Thornton, commissioned by the Irish Postmasters Union, indicated that if the social welfare business was transferred to banks the resulting loss of income would force up to half of the country’s post offices to close, with the resulting loss of a considerable number of jobs. The Department of Social Protection is in many cases bypassing the post offices and directing social welfare recipients towards electronic banking and direct payments into banks, which could eventually lead to the network losing the contract to dispense the payments.

A contract was signed recently between An Post and the Department of Social Protection for the dispensing of social welfare payments for the next two years with the option of an extension of a further four years.

Meanwhile, the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU), which represents 1,100 postmasters throughout the country, has launched a major campaign demanding that the government produce an action plan to ensure the sustainability of the post office network.

“The post office network will be decimated if the income from the welfare payments contract is lost,” stated IPU exec-utive Tom O’Callaghan, who represents postmasters in Munster. “The post office network is under serious threat, the network as we know it will be wiped out unless we get Govern-ment action now. While An Post has retained the Social Welfare payments contract for a possible six year term, this is only a temporary respite. We need a plan to ensure that post offices play a central role in the delivery of welfare payments and other Government services and we need that plan now.”

The postmasters are taking the case to Leinster House on Wednesday February 26th, when a Dáil motion proposed by the 16 members of the Technical Group of TDs is to be voted on. It calls on the Government to produce a comprehensive plan setting out measures to deliver on their commitment to sustain the network as contained in the Programme for Government.

Mr. O’Callaghan said that all political parties are on the record as supporting the post office network as an essential part of Irish life, central to all communities.  The Grant Thornton report, commissioned by the IPU clearly demonstrated that the government could save €76.8m if motor tax, banking charges and hospital charges were payable through post offices. Of this figure €60.6m could come from motor tax. 

A public rally will be held in the Greenhills Hotel, Limerick, this evening Wednesday at 8pm to which all local public representatives are invited. The public are asked to turn out in force, as sources claim it may be the last chance to save the post office network as we know it and, by extension, local com-munities.