By Kieran O’Mahony
A WEST Cork councillor got overwhelming support from fellow councillors for her motion condemning letters from the Department of Social Protection.
At a recent Cork County Council meeting, Cllr Margaret Murphy O’Mahony called on the Council to demand that Social Protection Minister Joan Burton cease the practice of sending letters to claimants, encouraging them to switch their method of payment from post offices to banks.
Cllr Murphy O’Mahony said the Department of Social Protection is writing to recipients of pensions, child benefits, invalidity and carers’ allowances. The letters say ‘it is for greater convenience to you’ and that ‘a current account provides for easier access and better security’.
‘They’re even providing a free envelope for people to do it and the problem is that people think that it’s the right thing to do. It will starve rural post offices of oxygen and decimate villages,’ said Cllr Murphy O’Mahony speaking to The Southern Star.
The Irish Postmasters’ Union (IPU) said that all post offices will be under threat of closure if social protection transaction business is taken away.
It is also calling on the Minister for Social Protection to withdraw the new social protection forms and said members were shocked to receive the new forms in recent weeks which ‘recommend’ direct payment of social protection payments to bank accounts as the ‘best payment option.’
The new forms only reference using the post office for those who ‘don’t have bank accounts’.
The IPU is also contacting its 1,100 members, covering all constituencies and asking them to contact their TDs, demanding that the forms be revised and reissued in the interest of keeping local services in the community.
IPU Executive member and Southern spokesperson, Paddy O’Shea said social protection payments are the single biggest part of post office business – accounting for more than 30% of all transactions, and removing this core business would close offices.
‘A solution needs to be found whereby both electronic transfer and collection options can be offered at the post office, instead of migrating this business to the banks. Postmasters will not accept these forms as fair or appropriate, and the new forms show a complete disregard for the commercial future of post offices which are a trusted and valued part of Irish life,’ said Paddy O’Shea.
Fianna Fail spokesperson on Communications, Michael Moynihan, has also accused the government of continuing to undermine the post office network throughout the country.
‘Prior to the local elections in May 2014 former Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte issued a statement saying that the cabinet had agreed a whole-of-government approach in ensuring the protection of the post office network. However, it is now apparent that this was simply a hollow promise that the government knew it would renege on following the elections,’ said Deputy Moynihan.
‘Now it seems the government is using more covert tactics, by issuing letters under the radar directly to social welfare recipients, in an attempt to undermine the post office network.’