Wednesday, 6 March 1985
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Kiely: I would like to thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this important subject on the Adjournment of the House. I am sorry that it is at this late hour that I have to raise it. I assure the House that I will not delay unduly. I understood that the Minister of State at  the Department of Social Welfare, Deputy Séamus Pattison, was to deal with this matter but, perhaps through an arrangement of conveniencing one another he is not staying up late and the Minister of State at the Department of Health is now taking it. I am frustrated by the postal strike in Limerick. I endeavoured to get the Minister for Communications or the Minister for Labour involved in this very serious situation which has arisen. I was informed that, because An Post are now a State-sponsored body, no Minister is responsible for them. This is extraordinary, to say the least. I raised another matter at an earlier stage regarding Clover Meats where a lot of farmers were owed money by them and I did not get a satisfactory reply. This is very embarrassing and frustrating for Senators who find something grieviously wrong being done to their constituents and who cannot raise it in this House. The only way I could raise it is by mentioning the social welfare beneficiaries.
The Department of Health have done their best to ensure that social welfare beneficiaries receive their payments. At the same time, these people are frustrated because they are not assured that they will receive their payments in time. This is the reason I am raising this matter on the Adjournment this evening.
The postal strike in Limerick commenced on Friday, 15 February when 13 postal sorters went on strike due to the decision to appoint four extra postal sorters. The 13 postal sorters who are on unofficial strike took this action because it meant a big cut-back in overtime. I wonder what overtime we will get here this evening. We have worked indefinite overtime and we cannot do anything about it.
There have been several attempts made to settle the strike but so far these have been totally unsuccessful. There was an attempt made last Friday by Deputy Frank Prendergast, who is a trade union official, who met the sorters and the postmaster in Limerick to try to resolve it but to no avail. A further attempt was made on Monday, but the  strike goes on. I read in The Irish Times on Saturday that the postmaster advised people in Limerick not to post any letters in the Limerick Post Office. This causes great hardship to the people in Limerick. The situation is a stalemate. Unless the strike is official the Minister for Labour will not intervene. This is very poor satisfaction to the people who are affected by this. There should be some way by which the Government could intervene to solve this strike.
The areas serviced by the Limerick GPO are Limerick city where there is a population in excess of 60,000 people and the greater part of County Limerick, with a few exceptions on the north-Cork border, which are serviced by the Kilmallock Post Office and who would not be affected by the strike, and a vast part of Country Clare, Kilalloe, which is densely populated, Broadford, O'Callaghans Mills and surrounding areas. Since the strike began no letters are being delivered. There are letters and cheques lying in the Limerick Post Office as a result.
This post office strike affects the business life of Limerick city. SFADCo, with their advance factories, are affected by it. The greatest concern should be with social welfare recipients, who depend on their weekly contributions for their livelihood.
At this point I should like to compliment the personnel in the Department of Health and Social Welfare and the personnel in the Mid-Western Health Board who are cooperating with the Department of Social Welfare in ensuring that the recipients of social welfare receive their cheques. As I have stated, these recipients are not sure that they will receive their cheques in time or if they will have to wait. The Minister of State at the Department of Health can tell me if these cheques are received by his Department who in turn forward them to the Mid-Western Health Board who get their welfare officers to distribute them. The recipients feel insecure and are frustrated in not knowing if they will get their cheques each week. The disability benefits which are being paid by the health boards are dealt with in similar  manner and this is causing frustration to recipients.
I appreciate the Department's arrangements in such difficulties. I would prefer to see the Minister for Communications or the Minister for Labour in the House dealing with this matter rather than the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Welfare. The Minister for Labour is the person in a position to resolve the impasse of the strike more readily than the Minister of State in the House. This is no reflection on the Minister. The Minister of State with the cooperation of his senior colleagues in Government, should do something to bring an end to this unfortunate situation in Limerick.
Mr. Cassidy: I would like to add my voice of support to Senator Kiely's appeal in regard to this serious situation in Limerick. The strike is now in its third week. There is a population of 60,000 affected by it. Parts of the County Clare and north Cork, as the Senator has stated, along with Limerick city, are paralysed. We are all aware of the serious effects this can have on the business community of the area. God knows, things are bad enough without having the likes of this to put up with. We all know the effects this can have on old people, in particular, who are anxious to receive letters from their loved ones in far away places. Even Dublin is far away for them. They are dependent on the extra financial assistance which they may receive in letters every week.
I ask the Minister of State to use his good office to intervene, if at all possible, to call an end to this very unnecessary strike. There are so many people unemployed and there is no reason why anybody should be on strike nowadays. At this hour of the morning I will be brief. I lend my support, as Front Bench Spokesperson for Communications, to Senator Kiely's motion.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Donnellan): The Department of Social Welfare were informed of the postal dispute in  Limerick head post office on 19 February and immediately took action to minimise the hardship that would otherwise result for social welfare recipients. The main services affected by the dispute are postal unemployment payments and disability benefit payments. The postal dispute has not affected post in my Department's Limerick branch offices which are in Kilmallock, Nenagh, Roscrea and Tipperary. These offices are served directly by the local post offices and the post does not have to go through Limerick. It has only affected postal payments made by Limerick employment exchange.
Since the postal strike began in Limerick special arrangements have been in force under which officials of the Limerick employment exchange personally have been collecting and certifying forms from the Garda station each Tuesday in the areas affected by the dispute and bringing around the pay vouchers and pay sheets to the local post offices each Thursday. I am satisfied that the special arrangements in regard to postal arrangements for which the Limerick exchange is concerned are completely adequate and an effective safeguard against hardship in the only area in which unemployed persons might otherwise have suffered hardship as a result of the dispute.
The second main area of the Department's services which is affected by the dispute is the disability benefit section. Again the Department took immediate action as soon as they were notified of the dispute to ensure that disability payments to people living in the areas affected by the dispute would not stop. Since Tuesday, 19 February, all disability benefit cheques for the affected areas have been specially extracted and sent twice daily to the superintendent community welfare officer in Limerick. He has organised a rapid distribution system to all of the areas concerned through their community welfare offices and local agents of my Department. All the cheques which would normally be sent out by post on Mondays and Tuesdays are extracted and reach the superintendent community welfare officer first thing on  Thursday. The cheques which would normally go out by post from the Department on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are collected and sent on to him on Saturday so that he is able to have them distributed first thing on Monday morning.
I am perfectly satisfied that the arrangements minimise hardship to the greatest extent possible within the power of my Department. I would like to commend the community welfare officer's staff in Limerick and all the affected areas for the cooperation and indeed initiative they have displayed in helping to set up and make these arrangements a success. My Department are keeping the situation under constant review and are in daily contact with An Post. Plans have been made to ensure that pension book renewals to the areas affected by the dispute for old age, retirement and widows pensions which will begin next week, will not be interrupted if the dispute continues.
Mr. Lanigan: We have another two and a half minutes or three minutes to go. Can I just say it is grand for the Minister to say that arrangements have been made and, in all fairness to the community welfare officers, they are doing the best they can.
Mr. Lanigan: It is grand for the Minister to sit there and it is grand for his officials to sit there and suggest that certain things are extracted but the one big thing he fails to realise is that if somebody who does not get a cheque needs a cheque on Friday morning or a Monday morning, there is no point in having a cheque extracted. The fact is that people who have no money——
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