Take a look at this headline from the Irish Independent (a leading morning newspaper) from Friday 29th August, two days ago.
First of all some facts. At 2008, there were 1,424 post offices in the Republic of Ireland. According to the “Independent”, the current number of post offices is around 1,100. This means that around 300 post offices have closed in the last decade.
For some months, it has been an open secret that hundreds of post offices will close. But I suspect that the dramatic headline is part of a media war between the major players…An Post (the Irish Post Office) and the Postmasters who run the country’s network.
The article in the “Independent” references a letter it has seen from An Post to the Postmasters “Union” and it is unlikely that the letter was leaked to the media by An Post.
Another fact…around half of the post offices make a loss. But the case for the viability of a post office is not merely economic. There is a “community” aspect which cannot be quantified by accountants in the General Post Office in Dublin. And a political fall-out that will affect Government and Opposition AND crucially the cross-party local effect in towns and villages in rural Ireland. After all, an astute politician might well feel that the post office network is too large…BUT will fight to ensure that his/her local post office is saved and the post office in another village is closed.
The “Independent” seems anxious to show that this will impact rural Ireland more than the urban centres and there is an ongoing war between “Dublin” and the “Rural Ireland”. A lot of people beyond a radius of fifty miles from the General Post Office in Dublin, feel left behind. Issues like hospitals, schools, public transport seem to divide people on a fault line between Economics and Community.
Obviously the plans for a drastic reduction in the network are opposed by the Postmasters. As they point out, the Post Office is a vital part of community life. As I have visited over a hundred post offices since May (I am photographing as many as I can), I can confirm that the least likely reason to visit a post office is to buy a stamp. Recently I was in a post office in South Dublin…there was a line of eight customers and I was the first to buy a stamp.
People tend to go to post offices to pay bills, lodge or withdraw cash from accounts or access social welfare benefits such as “Family Allowance”, “State Pension” and “Unemployment Benefit”.
Earlier this year, the cost of posting a letter in Ireland rose from 72cents to one Euro. And certainly within Dublin, there are a lot of courier companies.
It is NOT just about Stamps and certainly not about Stamp Collecting. Many post offices do not sell commemorative stamps. It is already a losing battle but if post offices close…well it is another nail in the coffin of Stamp Collecting in Ireland.
As an unashamed socialist, I am more concerned about the effects on community life than the sensibilities of stamp collectors. In my experience most Irish stamp collectors are politically to the right of Attila the Hun. They would normally support the “market” over human beings.
I am also an old gentleman. I took “early retirement” from a public sector organisation when I was just 53 years old. I did of course reject the first retirement package that I was offered. And I even protested that I could never accept selling my job and dignity for any amount of cash. Of course I was bluffing. I grabbed the third offer before it was withdrawn. I sold a job that I hated all my working life. And I got more cash than I had hoped. And I went back to University and got myself another degree.
Seemingly it will take five years before the post offices close. And seemingly “island” post offices are safe. The target is post offices that have a catchment of less than 500 people. It is sad.
But the cat and mouse game will be played out in the media for some time.