Minister comments on the imminent decision on the future 200 postal jobs in Laois

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

post

Portlaoise Mail centre.

People would be 'offended' if the future of An Post's mailing centre in Portlaoise and the jobs located there is decided on some 'political calculation', the Government Minister which oversees the company has told a Laois TD.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton responded to Sean Fleming in the Dáil this week in relation to the fate of the centre near O'Moore Park GAA grounds which employs 200 people. 

The Laois TD said there has been a question mark relating to the reorganisation by An Post's mail centres around the country for more than a year but a decision is imminent.

"I understand that there may be a board meeting of An Post on 27 June, at which a decision may be made on the future of mail centres.

"The case for Portlaoise is outstandingly strong and I ask the board to make the right decision, and to give a commitment to the future of the mail centre at the meeting next week. There are outstanding staff in the area and the 200 staff there have great experience and use good technology," he said. 

He called on the Minister to use his influence 

"I know the Minister will say it is a matter for the board but I am raising the matter here to impress on the board the case for the location in Portlaoise," said the Laois TD.

In his reply, Minister Bruton said he is aware of the 'acute concern' to many people. He said other TDs have made the case for the other mail sorting centres. He said Deputy Fleming is very aware of the legal position that An Post will make the decision on which centre will close.

"People would be rightly offended if this decision was to be made by a Minister deciding between different mail sorting centres, not on the basis of what is in the best interests of that company building its employment base and its customer base but on the basis of some political calculation," he said.

He said Dep Fleming has made an articulate case for the merits of Portlaoise. 

"I am sure the company will be mindful of the case being made by public representatives in its evaluation of this decision, but it rests with the board and not with me as Minister. That is as it should be," he said. 

Dep Fleming said there are four mail centres around the country, Dublin, Portlaoise, Cork and Athlone in Westmeath but Portlaoise is the most strategic location outside Dublin. 

He also raised correspondence with the Minister. He said David McRedmond, the chief executive officer, said last May that An Post was reassessing its national mail processing capacity including the mail centres.

On April 30 the Laois TD received another letter telling me that it is subject to Labour Court recommendations and that the matter was under active consideration. 

TEXT OF EXCHANGE IN THE DÁIL FROM JUNE 20.

Deputy Seán Fleming: I wish to raise the future of the An Post mail centre in Portlaoise.  For well over a year there has been a question mark relating to the reorganisation of the mail centres around the country and I understand that there may be a board meeting of An Post on 27 June, at which a decision may be made on the future of mail centres. This process has been going on for some time. The case for Portlaoise is outstandingly strong and I ask the board to make the right decision, and to give a commitment to the future of the mail centre at the meeting next week.  There are outstanding staff in the area and the 200 staff there have great experience and use good technology.

The Portlaoise mail centre has a number of key features. It is the area where all parcels come into the country, where they are processed for onward distribution. Because of this, there is a strong customs presence from the Revenue Commissioners in the mail centre, with sophisticated equipment to detect anything illicit coming into the country, as well as an outstanding dog unit which is regularly mentioned locally in connection with the seizure of drugs or other illicit products. This feature is unique to Portlaoise and exists nowhere else in the country so it makes no sense to remove it and transplant it elsewhere.

There are four mail centres around the country, namely, Dublin, Portlaoise, Cork and Athlone in Westmeath. However, Portlaoise is the most strategic location outside Dublin.  The capital city will need a mail sorting centre because of the large volume of post but Portlaoise is within an hour and a half or so of all the regions in the southern half of the country. I live just outside Portlaoise and I am an hour and a half from Dublin Airport, an hour and 15 minutes from Shannon Airport and less than two hours from Cork Airport. One can get parcels from Portlaoise to all the areas in the south of the country overnight for early delivery the next morning. For mail that needs to be sorted overnight in Portlaoise, we have outstanding motorways in the midlands region, to Cork, Limerick or Waterford and one can get to places such as Kerry within an hour and a half or two hours.  It would be an excellent facility to keep, if the decision was made to close some mail centres, because Portlaoise is strategically located. It would be the best location and I ask An Post to confirm that.

Following contact from staff in the past year or so, I have had correspondence from the company about the issue. I have a letter of May 2018 from David McRedmond, the chief executive officer, who said An Post was reassessing its national mail processing capacity including the mail centres, of which Portlaoise is one of four. On 30 April I received another letter from the GPO, telling me that it is subject to Labour Court recommendations and that the matter was under active consideration. I am pleading to the Minister - Portlaoise is a very strategic location and has the best road network of all the country's mail centres. It is imperative that An Post keeps its centre there. I know the Minister will say it is a matter for the board but I am raising the matter here to impress on the board the case for the location in Portlaoise. I ask the board to commit to the future of the Portlaoise mail centre at its next meeting.

 

Minister Richard Bruton: I appreciate the fact that Deputy Fleming has raised the issue, which I know is of acute concern to many people. Last week in the Dáil, the Deputy may have heard somebody else raising the case of one of the other mail sorting centres. The Deputy is an experienced committee chair and I have soldiered with him on some of them. He is very aware of the legal position, namely, that this is the responsibility of An Post.

The House is well aware of the journey An Post has been on. There has been a 40% fall in mail deliveries and an 8% fall in them even this year. An Post must restructure its business.  It came close to a meltdown a few years ago and it had to undertake a major restructuring plan. Part of that, as the Deputy will be aware, has been a new deal with its employees, which involved a pay increase but also involved, as a part of that, that one of its mail centres would close, but that this choice would be made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the company, its employees and customers. That continues to be the case. An Post is acutely aware of the important regional role it plays and it will carefully weigh up this decision.

I would also like to acknowledge publicly in the House the success An Post and its employees have brought to the task of restructuring. It has built from scratch new areas of business, particularly in parcel delivery but also in new retail areas, financial services and so on. That is a testimony to the creativity of the company with it being able not only to stabilise its business but show significant operating profit this year. However, ultimately, it still has to continue the work of restructuring its business and building in the new areas of growth and, unfortunately that means it still has to restructure the mail sorting offices, which are part of that pay deal and part of the journey it is on.

The Deputy has made an articulate case for the merits of the office in Portlaoise for which he has advocated.  I am sure the company will be mindful of the case being made by public representatives in its evaluation of this decision, but it rests with the board and not with me as Minister. That is as it should be. People would be rightly offended if this decision was to be made by a Minister deciding between different mail sorting centres, not on the basis of what is in the best interests of that company building its employment base and its customer base but on the basis of some political calculation.  I have faith in the board, the members of which I am my predecessors have appointed, and I believe it will make this decision in the best interests of the company, its workers and the customers it serves.

 

Deputy Sean Fleming: I appreciate the Minister’s remarks and he is being straight and up-front. Essentially, I know the board has been given responsibility. All I would ask the Minister to do is to ensure the transcript of this debate, and fact that I have raised this issue, is transmitted to An Post headquarters so that it is aware of what we are saying. 

Obviously, when the company is in the Labour Court and dealing with the trade unions what we have to say here is totally irrelevant, but it is a slightly broader perspective than considering the issue only from a staffing point of view. We represent the customers, and, to an extent, the people of Ireland and our views need to be taken into account. If the Minister were to forward the transcript of this debate to An Post and ask it to consider this issue in an objective manner, I would be satisfied it would come to the right decision, which would mean keeping the mail centre in Portlaoise open into the future.

The Minister said that An Post has been doing its best to reorganise its facilities. We all know there has been a considerable drop in the volume of letters being posted. That is a simple fact. Its parcel delivery service has increased substantially with the increase in online shopping. We all have experience of that. People can make a booking or purchase an item online at midnight on Sunday and lo and behold it can be hand delivered by van to one’s front door on Tuesday morning.  An Post has a key role to play in that. That is why the cental location in Portlaoise is extremely good for achieving that. It is expanding its service for parcel deliveries from five to six days a week.  It is important it improves its service and matches the services delivered in the strictly private sector. Because there is a strong parcel sorting and delivery function in Portlaoise and all inward parcels come into that mail centre, there is a strong customer presence there.  It does not make sense to close that facility and have to reopen a similar facility somewhere else. Everything goes to the big cities, whether it be Dublin or the other large cities. It is important were there is a good viable business in regional towns that we hold on to it. I ask that the mail centre in Portlaoise be approved by the board of An Post in that context.

Minister Richard Bruton: I can assure the Deputy I will arrange for a transcript of this debate to be passed on to An Post, as he requested.  He has made an articulate case for Portlaoise. I know An Post is very conscious of the regional role it plays and of the importance it plays in regional development. This is a decision it will have make and it will do so on the basis of what is in the best interests of the company, its employees, customers and communities it serves.