Post Office services in An Rinn

Post Office services in An Rinn

Marc Ó Cathasaigh: Chaitheamar roinnt uaireanta sa Dáil an tseachtain seo ag déanamh díospóireachta ar úsáid na Gaeilge agus ar an gcineál infheistíochta a theastaíonn san oideachas, sa tithíocht agus i gcúrsaí mar sin chun an teanga, atá i ngéarchéim thromchúiseach, a chosaint agus a athbheochan. Tá ár gceantair Ghaeltachta, tobar ár dteanga dhúchais agus acmhainn ríthábhachtach ó thaobh ár bhféiniúlacht chultúrtha, faoi bhrú ó gach taobh. Ó chostas agus easpa tithíochta inár gceantair Ghaeltachta go dtí brú forleathan an Bhéarla, atá i gceannas ar ár n-aerthonnta, ár meáin agus ár sráideanna, d’fhéadfadh sé a bheith deacair an rogha a dhéanamh an Ghaeilge a bheith mar phríomhtheanga theaghlaigh.

Is cuid ríthábhachtach lárnach den phictiúr seo iad seirbhísí. Má táimid dáiríre faoi chosaint ár bpobal Gaeltachta, caithfimid a chinntiú go bhfuil seirbhísí ar fáil sna pobail sin trí mheán na Gaeilge. Is minic nach mar sin a bhíonn. Mar shampla, i nGaeltacht na nDéise tá an GP áitiúil caillte againn. Caithfidh daoine sa Rinn nó sa Seanphobal taisteal isteach go dtí Dún Garbhán le haghaidh seirbhísí sláinte a fháil, áit a mbíonn siad curtha ar fáil trí mheán an Bhéarla. Anois, tá an oifig an phoist áitiúil i mbaol. Tá an mháistreás phoist reatha ag dul ar scor agus tá ceisteanna tromchúiseacha faoi todhchaí sheirbhísí oifig an phoist sa phobal. Ní cinneadh eacnamaíochta amháin é seo, i mo thuairim féin ar aon nós. Tá tionchar aige seo a théann i bhfad níos faide ná dúnadh oifig phoist tuaithe, cé gur buille tubaisteach é sin do phobal ar bith. Scriosfaidh an cinneadh seo inmharthanacht na Gaeilge mar theanga phobail i gceann de na beagán dár nGaeltachtaí atá fágtha againn.

We spent quite a few hours this week debating the status and use of the Irish language and the type of investment we need from education to housing to many other areas to protect and revive a language that is at a serious tipping point in terms of a crisis. In our Gaeltacht areas, the places that are supposed to be the well spring of our native language and that are really important cultural resource, the Irish language is under pressure from all sides. There is no housing available. The housing that is available is incredibly expensive. Everywhere we have the pressure of the English language. It will be on social media and the airwaves and is increasingly on streets and roads in Gaeltacht areas. It can be hard to make a choice to raise a family through Irish and make it the first language of the household. Services must be a critical part of this. If we are talking about maintaining our Gaeltacht communities, we have to make sure services are available and that those services are available through the Irish language, but that is often not the case.

An example is Gaeltacht na nDéise in my constituency. It has lost its local GP, so if people want to access a GP, they must travel to Dungarvan and will get their health services through English in a place that is not within their community. Now we have a threat to the local post office service. The person who has run the post office in An Rinn for many years is retiring and there are serious questions about a future post office service. This cannot just be a hard economic decision. The loss of a post office in any rural area is a big blow but in a Gaeltacht area, it is not just the loss of services, it is the loss of services in the Irish language so we cannot just bring it down to hard figures.

I ask the Government to intervene in this case and make it clear to An Post that there is more than just an economic element to this and that it is about more than just its central importance to rural communities. It is vital in Gaeltacht communities where access to basic services trí mheán na Gaeilge has to be part of the community preservation of our language.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Neale Richmond)

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Ó Cathasaigh. Tá brón orm ach freagróidh mé as Béarla.

I appreciate the Deputy raising this issue. I welcome the opportunity to outline the position in respect of it on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. An Post is a commercial State company with a mandate to act commercially and, as such, day-to-day operational matters, including decisions regarding the size, distribution and future of the network, are matters for the board and the management of the company and not ones in which the Minister has a statutory function.

The Minister is very aware of the impact that decisions relating to changes in An Post operations have on communities and individuals in rural and urban areas. The Deputy very eloquently and in a linguistic sense, very beautifully laid out the impact of this in his area. It is understood from An Post that the postmaster in An Rinn is retiring. An Post has advised that it has advertised the post office contract a number of times and canvassed the local area but to no avail. An Post indicated that An Rinn, like most post offices, is run by a postmaster, who is a self-employed contractor, rather than directly by An Post. The contract for An Rinn will be advertised once more this week by An Post and it has indicated it will continue looking for a suitable contractor to take over the running of the post office.

I have considerable empathy with the Deputy because no fewer than two post offices in my constituencies sadly could not be saved because the commercial viability of doing so was not appealing enough for people to take up this opportunity. Obviously, it is acutely different in suburban south Dublin compared with the rural Gaeltacht areas of Waterford. This should and will be acknowledged by An Post and the Minister.

In recent years, though, An Post, has been transforming its business by delivering new products and new formats in the context of the way it operates. Among other things, this includes diversifying and growing the financial services products it provides for individuals and SMEs to include loans, credit cards and more foreign exchange products, local banking in association with the major banks and a full range of State savings products. An Post is also providing agency banking services for AIB and Bank of Ireland across its network of post offices. The programme for Government recognises that a modernised post office network will provide a better range of financial services and e-commerce services for citizens and enterprises as part of our commitment to a sustainable, nationwide post office network with overall funding of €30 million provided to support a sustainable nationwide network in line with this commitment.

I trust, however, that the Deputy understands it would be inappropriate for the Minister, Deputy Ryan, or me, on his behalf, to comment further on operational matters relating to proposals for specific post offices. An Post plays an important role in serving the needs of business and domestic customers alike. An Post advises that this role is at the forefront of its mandate. Ultimately, however, the Minister cannot intervene to prevent An Post from doing that which we as the Oireachtas have given it a statutory responsibility to do. An Post has an independent board with a very clear mandate. That said, another effort is under way to find a suitable postmaster in An Rinn, a Gaeltacht region. I know An Post will put everything in place and will communicate fully with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and this House as this situation progresses.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I thank the Minister of State for his answer and the clarity concerning the ability, or otherwise, of the Minister to engage in this matter. I strongly feel, however, that we do need to find a way to apply a wider lens in this context. Let us leave to one side the individual case of this post office. The provision of services within communities, and especially in Gaeltacht communities, cannot always be driven by an economic or commercial model. In the case of An Rinn, and I am not here to make the case for any one person, the contract has been offered. I know one person who is interested in taking it on but his accountant has told him to run a mile from it. I refer, basically, to what is on the table in terms of returns. The transaction fees only total a certain amount of money and will not even pay a minimum wage for someone to stand in behind the counter for the hours required. An upfront investment of €40,000 is required because, as an An Post post office, it is necessary to put in the proper counter and the requisite security. The only reason this man is interested in getting involved is because he knows the importance of these services within the Gaeltacht community. He can do without this headache but he is committed to providing Irish-language services within Gaeltacht na nDéise.

There will be knock-on impacts if these Irish-language services are not provided. If people drive into Abbeyside to get their pensions, for example, first of all, they have to drive to the location itself, which is 6 miles in the car. The Green Party fellow does not want this, for sure. It is possible, however, to get the Local Link bus and it is well worth mentioning this point. After people have made that drive into Abbeyside, though, they will then have to do their business in English. This is not what we want for our Gaeltacht communities. Additionally, while people are in Abbeyside and their cars are parked up and they need a few bits of shopping, they will probably pop into the Spar or Centra shop there. This will result in an important cut to the revenue of the Spar or Centra shop out in An Rinn. What will happen then? That place will close its doors. This will be another piece of the jigsaw that we will have lost in terms of maintaining a community language in our Gaeltacht areas. This is, therefore, an issue we must look at. Even if we are looking at it in the round, if we are really serious about the preservation of our Gaeltacht, then we must provide services in those areas trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Deputy Neale Richmond

Go raibh maith agat. I do not disagree with anything the Deputy has said. The case from the perspective of sustainability for local businesses and the environment and for the protection, preservation and promotion of our national language is well made and completely understood by me and, indeed, by the Minister, Deputy Ryan. The process is in play. An Post is going to try to do everything possible because it does not wish to see services ultimately move over to Abbeyside and Dungarvan. It wants to keep the post office service in An Rinn. It wants to keep it open for the local population and, more importantly, open as Gaeilge.

As I said, the original request for an intervention, unfortunately, is just not one we can agree to. I will, though, absolutely make the point quite clearly to the Minister and he will communicate with An Post in the appropriate manner about the importance of this issue and the very clear need for An Post to work with those interested, as well as putting this out to tender, to see what can be done not just from a commercial point of view but from a societal and community perspective. I think and hope this matter can be resolved even if it is at this late stage.

Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh

I thank the Minister of State.