The first postal service in Ireland commenced in the 17th century. A 1711 Act unified the post office for England Scotland and Wales and Ireland. Later, an independent and distinct Irish post office evolved, centred in Dublin controlled by its own Postmasters General.
In 1831, the Irish and British post offices were amalgamated. In 1835 the Post Office took over the running of the money order department and prepaid registration of letters and packets. In 1861, the Savings Bank was opened.
In 1870, the telegraph system was taken over by the Post Office. Parcel Post began in 1883. In 1912, the Post Office took over the telephone system. The power to license wireless transmitting and receiving apparatus and collect fees were vested in the Postmaster General in 1904.
Under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, the function of the Post Office and the Postmaster-General was transferred to a new governmental department, the Department of Post and Telegraph. In the earlier years of the State, the radio broadcasting services were operated directly other the auspices of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs
In the middle of the last century, the Department of Post and Telegraph was, after CIE, the largest employer in the state. There were over 14,000 employees in the mid-1950s technically comprising half the total personnel of the Civil Service.
Functions and Organisation
The Post Office has administered a range of functions on behalf of the government. In addition to the postal service, telegrams, and telephone services, it acted as Post Office Bank and dealt with most state pensions, allowances, coupons, and rations.
They dealt with the collection and payment of many licenses and the payment of customs duties on parcel post. Army and Navy allowances were paid through the Post Office.
The Post Office comprised of the General Post Office, 55 head offices in classification of 1 to 5 and over 2,000 sub-offices. The principal distinction was between cash account and non-cash account offices.
The former which provided money order facilities were supervised by the accountant’s branch and immediately controlled by the postmaster of the district. It supplied funds and stamps necessary for business and conducted inspections. Non-cash account offices were under the surveillance of the postmaster of the district but were accounted for differently.
Each head office comprised a postmaster and a civil service staff. Each was responsible to the Department of Post and Telegraphs for his district. The postmaster was responsible for ensuring the postal system extended through the country. He organised postmen, local sorting offices, provided staff in Post Office and for telegraph and telephone working.
The Dublin Postal District and Controller had a staff of over 1,200. Telephone and telegraph services in the Dublin area were under the control of a separate section.
It was an objective of the State to have affordable postal services throughout the country. There was intense competition for sub-postmasterships. The franchise attracted more customers to a shop premises and this would compensate for the remuneration, which itself might not have been sufficient.
The sub-postmaster was not a civil servant, but a contractor paid on the basis of the volume of business contracted in the Post Office, which was usually also a shop. The postmaster was subject to the Department’s regulations.
He was obliged to provide the necessary staff and equipment. He required the necessary competence, repute, and financial standing. A Post Office might not be used for certain other businesses including in particular the sale of liquor.
The Post Office was advanced in admitting women to the public service. Many women were employed as telephonists, counter clerks and telegraphists. The proportion of women in the Department, savings banks and other areas was significantly higher than in other areas of the civil service.
Department of Posts and Telegraphs
The head of the Post Office was the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs being one of the offices/ministers/departments established by the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924. The functions formerly exercised by the British Postmaster General in the Irish Free State were transferred to the Department.
The Department dealt with the decisions of policy and the matters which cannot be settled at a lower level. There was an establishment branch, a telecommunications branch; mails, buildings and supplies branch; general correspondence and survey branches.
The policy of the Post Office was subject to parliamentary approval. It operated under statute.
Payment was not out of revenue but out of monies voted by the Dáil. However, its revenue was handed over to the exchequer. Capital expenditure was approved by the Oireachtas from time to time. Sums advanced were repaid by annuities. Losses by loss-making services were offset by profits from other services.
The Post Office was conferred with a monopoly. It sought to operate on a commercial basis. A surplus or deficit was surrendered to the State. In most of the years or the first 30-years of the State, there was a surplus although a net deficit developed over time.
Laterally the telephone service became the most profitable part of the business. Subject to minor exceptions the monopoly extended to telephone, the transmission of letters, telegrams, wireless telegraphy, and wireless telephony.
The Telecommunications branch planned and supervised telegraphs, telephones, wireless development and maintained the principal telephone exchanges. It was linked with the transatlantic cable stations at Waterville and Valentia and the wireless station at Valentia and Malin Head. The branch was also responsible for telegraphic traffic with the United Kingdom.
The mails buildings and supplies branch oversaw inland and foreign-mail services. It contracted with transport entities for carriage by road, ship and air including railways. It dealt with conventions with foreign states, Post Office premises and supplies.
The general correspondence and survey dealt with miscellaneous activities including saving schemes, social welfare pensions, postal and money orders. The branch included a survey office that carried out inspections of provincial offices.
There was also a legal and medical branch and an accountants branch. The accountant’s branch superintended the department’s estimates and managed elements of the Post Office Savings Bank.
The stores department branch managed physical purchases and storage of apparatus, material and equipment and other contracts. It also placed contracts for a whole range of government services including the Army and Gardai. Formerly the storage branch maintained a Post Office factory in which certain parts were manufactured or repairs carried out to telegraph and telephone apparatus.
The engineering branch dealt with telegraphic and telephone construction as well as wireless broadcasting. This included the acquisition and maintenance of the equipment and apparatus.
The 1923 White paper on broadcasting proposed that a broadcasting company under a government licence should be established to operate the services with the capital being provided by industry. The special committee wished to prevent the service from becoming a monopoly in private hands.
The Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 provided for the regulation and control of wireless telegraphy in land, sea and air. It covered all kinds of broadcasting and signalling stations and services.
Radio Eireann was established with medium wave transmitters in Dublin, Cork and Athlone together with a shortwave broadcast service directed overseas. The broadcasting service was in manual mode which was accounted for through the Post Office by the secretary of the Post Office.
The licence fees were collected through Post Offices and the Department administered certain other matters on behalf of the broadcasting service. The service was effectively loss-making and publicly subsidised. The aim was to make the broadcasting services self-sufficient over time. Income came from sponsored advertising programs and licence fees.
The broadcasting service was administered by a director, assistant director. program officers, engineering staff, studio supervisors, some announcers, an orchestra on a contract basis and others. Contact was maintained between the director and secretary’s office. Engineers and members of the Post Office engineering staff and under the direction of the engineering chief.
In 1960, a statutory body was established with responsibility for States sound and television broadcasts. Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE). See the separate sections on broadcasting.
Modern Form; An Post
An Post is the State postal company established in 1984. Formerly the Government Department of Posts and Telegraphs provided a monopoly postal and telecommunication system.
The 1983 Act created two new companies which took over the existing postal and telecommunications systems. See the separate chapters in relation to telecommunications. The telecommunications company was eventually privatised, and the telecommunication market was opened up substantially to competition.