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Government should make our post offices the new banking force

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Date Published: {J}

The irony won’t be lost on the staff who are currently facing the dole queues but at a time when the Labour party is proposing the turn Britain’s post offices into the community bank, we’ve gone and closed Postbank which could have done precisely that here.

Postbank, the bank jointly owned by An Post and French bank BNP Paribas, operates banking, savings and investments, and insurance services in around 1,000 post offices across the country – but it will shut up shop at the end of this year.

Meanwhile the UK has around 12,000 post offices which Gordon Brown plans to use to establish a new People’s Bank.

One union official here said the decision to shut Postbank would be seen as a missed opportunity to provide straightforward banking services to ordinary people through the post office network. The same could be set of the Credit Union network which has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of customers in good times and bad.

And that’s half the argument – but what the post offices and credit unions have in buckets (and the banks do not) is people’s trust. We don’t think they’re ripping us off, trying to ply us with loans we can’t afford.

The local postmaster or mistress isn’t jetting out to their holiday home in Barbados or heading out for dinner at the Club; they are people who are enshrined in the community with the best interests of that community at heart.

One could argue that the near-collapse of the banking system was caused by computerised geniuses who had lost touch with the real world.

And despite the bail-out, the banks haven’t changed their spots. They protest at new levies, limits to bonuses or any imposed change to their structures.

Anglo Irish is about to seek billions more of our money to stay afloat – and at the same time a radical alternative through our post offices is being shut down.

A People’s Bank – offering current and savings accounts, help with financial planning, and a way for credit unions to reach individuals – would provide a real alternative.

Of course there are security issues with all this and clearly some of the smaller outlets and sub-post offices wouldn’t necessarily have to be included – but large villages, towns and cities could get this system started which might then be rolled out to others as time goes on.

Much of the justification for bailing out Anglo Irish was to do with the need for a third banking force. The post office/credit union network could have been that force.

They encourage responsible saving and investment; they facilitate loan requests and they are enshrined in every town and village in the country.

The Postbank business model may not have worked but the fundamental idea was a sound one – why else would Britain be doing the same thing now in an effort to stimulate its economic recovery?

The business remains open until the end of the year, which is more than enough time for Government to re-evaluate what contribution the post office and/or the credit union could make to our economic revival as a third banking force.

And even if it might take some time to reach full viability, chances are the taxpayer would be a whole lot happier propping up a financial institution enshrined in its community as opposed to bailing out a toxic bank whose only contribution was to bring this country to its knees.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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