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Post offices battle back from threat of closure



Postmasters are heating up their campaign ahead of next year’s election to save the post office network by pressurising the Government to make them the preferred financial institution for welfare payments.

A meeting in Galway on Tuesday of postmasters from around the county was organised by the Irish Postmasters’ Union. Its vice president Padraig McNamara predicted that at least half of Galway’s 51 post offices would be wiped out if they lost the business from the Department of Social Protection.

Six weeks ago the Department wrote to clients, urging them to get their payments paid directly into their bank accounts.

The move infuriated postmasters, who currently handle 48% of welfare payments, for which they receive €57m from the Government.

However they insist that face-to-face payments actually saves the public coffers €70m by reducing welfare fraud. It also ensures the viability of the post office network which is a vital cog in the survival of rural villages and towns.

“The Government are saying they want to support the post office network but they’re pulling the rug from beneath our feet by directing welfare recipients to banks – these are the most vulnerable people in society they’re taking advantage of because it will cost them €70 a year to have their payments put into banks while we charge them nothing,” explained the postmaster from Granard, Co Longford.

“If they made us the provider of choice we would survive. We commissioned a report which found that if the welfare payments go down to three per cent, half the network will be wiped out – at least half of those in Galway – and the rural ones and larger ones in the towns where there are alternatives will be most vulnerable.”

Three generations of the Dooley family ran the post office in Cappataggle, but An Post declined to renew the contract beyond the end of the year.

Barnadearg near Tuam received a stay of execution until July. In both cases concerted community campaigns were waged to save services.

A major review of additional services that could be carried out through the post office network is currently in train under the leadership of Dragons’ Den coffee shop entrepreneur Bobby Kerr. However that plan is not expected to be unveiled until next year.

“We don’t want to make this an election issue, we want the future of post offices sorted before that,” remarked Padraig.

“What we’re saying is we need to be the contractor of choice for the Department of Social Protection – at the very least. If we could handle motor tax, we’d save the Government €60m over five years – we could handle hospital charges, local authority charges, even driving licences, these kind of services will ensure the survival of post offices.

“We are the largest network out there. We hand feed the butchers, the hairdressers, any shops in the area, we keep them alive, we keep towns alive. If you look at what’s happening in Great Britain, they are pumping money hand over fist into rejuvenating rural areas, there’s no point letting them go and then try to resurrect them when it costs far too much.”

The chief executive of An Post Donal Connell has warned that the operation of the network is facing “serious challenges” due to key customers moving business online and businesses seeking reductions in the cost of  transactions.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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