The Minister of State for Regional Economic Development has responded angrily to claims by the Minister for Communications that he "threw in the towel" on the issue of post offices.

Michael Ring said that he has "never thrown in the towel on any issue" and was not like the Independent TDs shirking responsibilities.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said he did what he was asked to do by Government, and it is now back to Denis Naughten who, he said, has a statutory responsibility for post offices.

Mr Ring said he asked Minister Naughten not to allow the price of a stamp to be increased until there was a full package of measures ready for presentation but "he couldn't rush fast enough to give them the increase.

"It's because I didn't have statutory responsibility of An Post, I couldn't make them decide on Government policy.

"That has to be done by the Minister for Communications. That's Denis Naughten. That's Denis Naughten's job.

"And as I say he's like a lot of Independent ministers - they're trying to shirk their responsibilities.

"He has a responsibility. He has a statutory responsibility for An Post. He's the minister that gave them the increase. He's the minister who brought the legislation through the Dáil. He's the minister that decided they were going to get the increase. Now who has the power - him or me?" 

Mr Ring said they are looking at ways and means to get more services into post offices but ultimately people needed to support or lose their rural post offices.

He said there were people talking about rural post offices who had never stepped foot in them.

Earlier, Mr Naughten explained that responsibility for the post office network, which currently lies with Mr Ring, is coming back into his department within the next couple of weeks.

He said Mr Ring "threw in the towel" on the issue.

"It’s an issue I have been dealing with for a long number of years as a rural TD. I’m one of the few TDs who made a submission to the Kerr Report" on the future of the post office network.

Mr Naughten said responsibility for the post office network was transferred to Minister Heather Humphreys and the Department for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

"The idea was to rejuvenate and transform the post office network, to ensure it was a viable entity into the future and now that responsibility has been transferred back to me", he said.

"I’m quite happy to take it, I’ve said that categorically at Cabinet and publicly and I’m looking forward to the challenge in relation to that."

He added that there are many issues in his department that are "hot potatoes", some of them have been "brushed under the carpet" in the past, he said, "I want to deal with these up front and that’s what I’m about".

Mr Naughten said the "very serious situation in An Post" was brought to him in late October/early November.

He said he took immediate action on that and within six weeks he had a piece of legislation going through the Dáil that was enacted early in the New Year, which now provides the company with "the headroom to deal with what I believe are the three key drivers of growth in the company going forward.

"It needed that particular room to take the actions needed, but nothing has been decided".

The company will be coming forward with proposals and there will be engagement with Government on these issues in advance of any final decisions been taken, he said.

He said he believes there is potential for developing the post office network.

We need to ensure the post office network is modernised, brought up to standards where young people would actually use the post office, which they don’t do at the moment, he said.

"I think most young people don’t even know where the local post office is. That needs to change if we are going to have a viable entity going forward."

His objectives in relation to An Post, he said, is to build on its three assets - its post office network, a five-day delivery service and brand recognition.
 
He said there here was a need for a better banking service in rural Ireland and an improved parcel delivery and collection service.