'I am devastated. It's especially sad for older people'
The imminent closure of five post offices in County Wexford - including Kilmore Quay, Broadway, Carrig-on-Bannow, Duncannon and Camolin - has been described as 'a direct assault on rural communities'.
The post offices are set to close under the terms of a voluntary redundancy package offered by An Post to post masters and mistresses which will see a total of 161 rural offices around the country closing their doors between October and January.
There was nothing voluntary about the scheme, according to many post office operators who felt they had no option but to accept redundancy, as incomes have been dropping drastically in recent years, mainly due to technology.
Nicola Howlin who has been running the post office in Carrig-on-Bannow for the past 34 years said she has been upset for the past few months just thinking about the closure of her premises.
'It has been a nightmare thinking about it. I still get upset over it and even thinking about it; it's just the way it is. I don't mind for myself. I just think it's terrible for the elderly in the community,' said Nicola, fighting back tears.
'It's very sad to go and it's terrible for the community. But to stay here with the new contract they're offering isn't viable,' she said, confirming that she will close her doors in late November.
About 30 customers walk to her post office every day, as they don't have transport, and they will now have to travel to Wellingtonbridge, a distance of six kilometres away, she said.
Aine Scallan has been postmistress at Broadway Post Office for the past 28 years, having taken over the business from her grandparents Nick and Girlie Doyle who ran it for approximately 30 years, with the assistance for a time of her mother Anne Scallan.
'I'm devastated that I have to close. I think it's very sad for the parish and the community, particularly older people. They are very concerned about how to get their pensions and what's coming for them. They will have to go further now', said Aine, pointing out that the next nearest post offices are in Rosslare Harbour and Killinick.
'Some of my customers come on their bikes or they walk, now they will have to look for lifts from family members.'
'An Post are saying it was voluntary redundancy. I feel I applied for it because I had no choice. I personally wasn't offered a new contract so the choice I had was to stay on the old contract, with the wages going down and down'.
Áine said two factors that have contributed to a decline in business are a reduction in bill payments and social welfare payments being paid to banks. Local people have been airing their views about the closure and are devastated at the loss of their post office, she said.
'It's a big loss to the parish. I am sad. I feel I have no choice but to go. It's not about the redundancy. If I stayed on, I might eventually have to close anyway, with no package,' said Áine, who has no date yet for the Broadway closure.
Geraldine Evans, who runs the post office in Kilmore Quay, has spoken out as far back as four years ago, about the threat to rural post offices, saying An Post maintained they had no plans to close rural post offices but at the same time they were removing services and making it impossible for them to remain viable.
Geraldine has been postmistress for the past 30 years, having taken over from her late father Patrick W. Murphy, who operated the business for the previous 45 years. The Kilmore Quay premises will close on Wednesday, August 15, with all business transferred to Kilmore Post Office.
In a statement, An Post said the Post Office Transformation Programme involving the transfer of business to neighbouring offices is essential to the sustainability of the network and the continued provision of services in local communities.
Communities of over 500 people will still have a post office and 95% of the population will be within 15km of at least one post office, according to the company. The new retail contract being rolled out to post masters will include lunchtime opening and an extended range of financial, government and e-commerce services.
An Post said that in many of the locations where postmasters wish to retire, services such as stamps, bill payments, mobile top-up and TV licence renewal will continue to be available through a PostPoint counter facility in a local shop.
In a Morning Ireland interview, An Post's retail boss Debbie Byrne incicated that closures may eventually be on the way in urban areas as well, with two outlets consolidated into one.
She confirmed that 161 rural post offices out of a total network of 1,111 outlets, are expected to close at the end of the current consultation period and that postmasters and postmistresses are in line to receive between €6,000 to €80,000 each depending on the length of their service.
However, solicitor and Fianna Fail councillor Lisa McDonald called it 'a direct assault on rural communities' and said the redundancy package is a smokescreen to bring about the closures that An Post and the Government have been actively seeking for years.
'Let me be crystal clear, postmasters and postmistresses are entitled to take voluntary redundancy. They have given years of dedicated service to their local communities, and should be able to retire with a fair financial package,' she said.
'But this cannot be used as a backdoor way to post office closures. Taking away the harp symbol from the door signals the State's withdrawal from the village and effectively tells people that the State no longer sees that village as a viable place to live and work.'
'Post offices cannot be viewed in the same way as other commercial enterprises. Viewing their viability through the prism of simple profit and loss equations ignores the real impact of post offices in rural communities,' she said.