Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 19 October, 2006

Written Answers. - Postal Services.

Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will bring forward a strategy for the postal sector, particularly in the context of the continued diminution of the post office network and the prospect of full liberalisation of the postal sector from 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33412/06]

  Mr. N. Dempsey: The size and scale of the post office network is a matter for the management and board of the company. However, I have asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long term viability of the post office network and in this light, An Post is currently working on a financial services initiative which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices. It is in this context that the Government recently gave its approval for An Post to enter into a joint venture agreement with Belgian Bank, Fortis to set up a retail banking business.

With respect to mail services, I believe that there will continue to be a key national role for An Post in delivery of mails and parcels. However, over the coming years competition can be expected to increase in these sectors, whether from the privately owned express sector, from the large European public operators now looking for international business or from electronic substitution. Liberalisation of the mail market in Ireland has already commenced and the second Postal Directive proposes that the postal sector is to fully liberalise across the EU on 1 January 2009 subject to political agreement, which, if achieved, would open up the letter post area to full competition.

Therefore, in terms of dealing with the challenges facing An Post in the coming years, company management in conjunction with the trade unions, must deliver on restructuring agreements particularly in the mails area. The development of the postal market requires the availability of competitive, high quality products. The current level of market opening has introduced new players with offerings that meet consumer needs and further market opening will provide further opportunities for new and existing players. The development of further competition allied with a modernised and customer-focussed An Post will provide the basis for the further development of the postal sector here.

[2041] Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the rate of closure of post offices here is worrying; and if he has had discussions with the relevant stakeholders to address this issue. [33484/06]

  Mr. N. Dempsey: The rate of post office closures is an operational matter for the board and management of An Post and one in which I have no function. Section 12 (3) of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 states that ‘the company shall have power to do anything which appears to it to be requisite, advantageous or incidental to, or which appears to it to facilitate, either directly or indirectly, the performance by it of its functions as specified in this Act or in its memorandum of association and is not inconsistent with any enactment for the time being in force’.