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Rural meltdown

Rural meltdown

Knockmore backlash in vain as post office shuts

Anton McNulty

THE committee formed to retain a post office in Knockmore in north Mayo say they are ‘disgusted’ with its closure this week and they now feel rural people have no chance of halting endless closures to essential services like post offices, garda stations and schools.
A post office has been in Knockmore since 1849 but yesterday (Monday) marked an end of an era for the north Mayo village when Postmaster, Billy Rodgers retired, and An Post chose not to find a replacement.
Despite a campaign by local residents to retain a postal service in the village which included the preparation of a business plan to prove its viability, An Post officials maintained that the service was not justified on commercial grounds.
The closure of Knockmore Post Office comes shortly after the closure of rural garda stations across the county and also the reduction in teaching numbers in some rural schools. The closure of Mulranny Garda Station at the end of March came despite a vocal community campaign to retain it and last February over 2,000 people marched in Castlebar against teaching cuts in rural schools.
Brendan Boland, PRO of the Save Knockmore Post Office Action Committee told The Mayo News that the parish was ‘deflated’ by An Post’s actions and feels state agencies have been given a ‘green light’ by the Government and the Department of Communications to make savings whatever way they can.
“We are disgusted with An Post at the moment because despite the fact that we presented a business and marketing plan to justify the viability of the post office, they were not for listening. They were not prepared to listen to us or discuss our plan. They [An Post] have been given the green light to do what they like and they have earmarked the closure of post offices at the top of their list.
“They are all for cuts and more cuts and politicians have no say whatsoever. An Post dictate what they do. We cannot understand why the government has its hands tied on this when they talk about job creation and yet they are taking potential investment away from the community. The people are so deflated and disgusted with the political system for being so paralysed in its inability to influence a public body,” he said.
Population figures released by the Central Statistics Office revealed that 92,743 or 71 per cent of the population of Mayo continue to live in rural areas.
Mr Boland believes that the closure of Knockmore Post Office will be followed by more closures when post masters in other rural areas retire. He says communities should not give up their services without a fight but feels that they are involved in losing battles.
“We put  a huge amount of work into it and we felt we had a great case when we prepared a plan and we were able to prove it. We did all that but An Post did not want to know. They do what they want to do and it doesn’t matter what the people want. They gave us so little information on how they decide viability and there is a lack of transparency in everything. We have given this issue a bigger profile and it is something the government has to take on.”
Knockmore councillor Seamus Weir voiced his frustration at a recent meeting of Mayo County Council at the lack of influence elected representatives have in persuading companies like An Post to change their mind.
“The TD’s are doing their upmost but we are absolutely wasting our time dealing with An Post. Our top TD’s can’t influence them and they [An Post] told us that they want to close all post offices if someone retires. It doesn’t matter if they are making a mint, they will close them,”.
Donal Connell, the CEO of An Post appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications during the past week and he was criticised for the lack of consultation with communities when closing post offices.
Of 32 postmaster resignations in Ireland since 2011, nine resulted in post office closures and Mayo TD, Dara Calleary said it would be ‘easier to decipher the third secret of Fatima’ than An Post’s strategy on closing post offices.
Fine Gael TD, Michelle Mulherin requested information on the targets a post office needs to achieve to be considered viable and the profile of the types of rural areas in which it will retain a post office in the future.
“The performance of the CEO gives no comfort whatsoever to rural communities. Rather it would seem that it is an objective to actually close down post offices in rural areas over time and send people into the towns instead. It is like a silent creep without putting their hands up,” she said.

HAVE YOUR SAY email antonmcnulty@mayonews.ie with your comments