Government proposal to franchise some postal services may signal the end of the traditional rural post office.

The days of visiting a premises that is just a post office and nothing else are numbered. As rural post offices become available, they will be offered up as a franchise system. The government is asking shopkeepers to take over the business of running of the service which could signal the end of the traditional rural post office.

The proposals have been put forward by an inter-departmental working group set up to study the post office network. The 1,800 sub-post offices and 100 company offices in the state are unsustainable as standalone businesses. Losses in the sector are predicted to reach an excess of £28 million a year by 2004.

The Irish Postmasters' Union (IPU), which represents the majority of sub-post offices, is unhappy with reforms that would see the transfer post offices to retail outlets or petrol stations. IPU acting general secretary Anthony Clinton says the local shopkeeper is effectively being asked to subsidise the post office service. The postmaster is taking on an assistant to operate the post office while he is operating the shop.

If franchises are not taken up Anthony Clinton warns,

You will see the collapse of the post office network as we know it.

Where local businesses do not take up the offer of a post office franchise, the government is committed to providing a government services agency. But this would not be happening in rural locations and is more likely to occur on a county wide basis.

The board of An Post are to meet to study the implications of the proposals.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 30 July 2001. The reporter is Annette O'Donnell.