By Friday of this week another post office in rural Ireland will have shut its doors for the very last time. There will be protests aplenty, impassioned appeals and fearsome, stubborn resistance, but ultimately the Post Office in Old Pallas, which has been in operation for more than a century, will go the way of many before it. The money men have spoken, the bottom-line has been considered, and, as much as it hurts those most closely affected, this long-running establishment has been rendered expendable, obsolete, no longer of use to those who make the decisions.
Credit where it’s due, the people of Old Pallas have put up one hell of a fight. In scenes reminiscent of ye olden Ireland, the entire community has come together as one and told An Post in no uncertain terms that this simply won’t do, that they will not stand for it, that their beloved post office will close over their collective dead bodies, or words to that effect. Politicians have been called upon, petitions have been drafted and signed, even the parish priest has had his say, but you know as well as I do, that, in this instance, resistance is futile.
You only have to look at the facts to realise that this was one battle which was always going to be lost. For a start, the Old Pallas Post Office is the last remaining office in the area. It was left to shoulder the burden after the equivalent services in neighbouring parishes Herbertstown, Kilteely and Knockane were discontinued. At the time concerned residents in those villages were mollified, told that Old Pallas was only up the road, a mere five-minute drive away. And now they’ll be told the same thing, except this time the nearest office will be a little further up the road, perhaps a ten-minute drive, fifteen, maybe more.
I sympathise with the plight of those who rely on the post office, those who have come to regard it as more than just a place to pay their bills, to receive payments and post letters to far-flung relations, but this is just a sign of the times. An Post are losing money hand over fist, downsizing at a rate of knots, doing everything they can to keep afloat in a rapidly changing market which has little room for sentiment. To those at its helm, the post office in Old Pallas is just another number, a statistical anomaly which needs to be removed from the books.
They don’t care if Mrs McGrath has no other way of collecting her pension, that she might have to get a bus or pay for a taxi to get to the next nearest post office. They couldn’t give a monkeys if “this post office, together with the adjacent co-op store, serves the needs of the agricultural and business hinterland.” To them that’s just words, empty messages uttered by someone far, far away who couldn’t possibly understand the metrics involved, the overheads that need to be considered, the finances which need to be balanced, and the dwindling resources of a once thriving institution.
The sad fact is that Old Pallas is just one of many, one of 400 to be precise. In this latest bout of bloodletting, An Post is cutting loose a third of its services. The intention is to streamline its business, to centralise, to move with the times or whatever other jargon you care to insert here. But this is just the beginning, this death-wheeze will play out slowly over the next couple of decades. An Post will eventually disappear altogether, replaced by something less arcane, less personable, perhaps a robot who personally delivers your letters and returns those runners you bought which were eight sizes too big.
Those protesting the closure have described this move as “another nail in the coffin of rural Ireland,” further proof that the needs of those living outside our cities and towns are being ignored, left to flounder by an ever-changing society. I’d argue that maybe they’re taking this too personally, that society simply must change and that it’s inevitable someone will get hurt along the way. Of far greater importance, of far greater concern, is the lack of serviceable broadband available in rural areas, a problem which is truly excluding those in the hinterlands and preventing them from operating on a level playing field.
By all means, protest against the closure of your post office, kick up an almighty fuss and see what happens. But An Post isn’t really the enemy here, soon enough it too will close its doors for the last time, it will be consigned to history the same way that its century old office in Old Pallas will be. Perhaps then, twenty, thirty years from now, maybe, just maybe, those living in rural Ireland will have decent broadband, Internet so fast that they’ll be too busy banking online, shopping for bargains and watching questionable content to give a moment’s thought to that post office they once fought so valiantly for. But I wouldn’t bet on it.