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Photograph by John Kelly.

Covid restrictions put further pressure on Clare’s rural post offices

PANDEMIC restrictions are putting increased pressure on rural post offices, as the move towards a cashless society accelerates, according the post master for Scariff and Feakle.

Brian McMahon said that while rural post offices had been commended as centres of help and support for the community, there was no real recognition from government of the pressures created by Covid-19 restrictions.

“The government is striving for a cashless society,” he said. “That has meant more payments to bank accounts, rather than in person at the post office. The reality is that communities need cash and in some cases, we are the major supplier in places where there is no bank or cash point in many areas.”

Mr McMahon added that the terms of the new contracts issued to post masters were not as favourable as those issued two years ago. “Under the old contracts, we counted our transactions over a three-year period,” he noted. “Now we are counting them month-by-month. As post masters, we are paid by transaction, and there will be a significant reduction in our salaries if that continues. The fact that pensions are now being paid every fortnight, rather than weekly, also affects us badly. For pensioners, we offer more than just a payment service. Post masters go above and beyond. The truth is that the rural post office network has been under pressure for the last 30 years. It is disheartening, because it seems it has to right to the wire every time before action is taken.”

Mr McMahon who took over the running of Scariff Post Office in May of last year added that while there was huge good will towards the service, it needed concrete support from politicians and members of the public.

“All the good will in the world make a difference to us, unless we have enough transactions to keep us going,” he said. “The post offices are under pressure. Scariff is a busy town and really, that should translate into a busy post office, but that’s not necessarily the case. The one is Feakle is equally busy and that’s saying something. The reality is that we will need a subsidy from the government. Otherwise, we simply won’t be able to keep going.”

Last week, business advisors Grant Thornton recommended an annual Public Service Obligation (PSO) for the Post Office Network of €17m.

The review of the economic contribution and financial sustainability of the Irish Post Office Network, commissioned by the Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU), recommends that the government invest with urgency in the post office network, saying that it provides a multi-fold economic and social return to communities, far in excess of the PSO requirement.

The report warned of the need for this action to be taken within months as the network “faces significant levels of unrestrained closures by the end of 2021”.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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