Public Affairs

All-island postal tariff

6177384_xxl Michael McKernan considers the scope for a standard price for mail across the border.

When An Post’s latest tariff increase came into effect towards the end of July, the cost of posting a standard (up to 100 grams) letter from Dublin to Cork or from Galway to Belfast rose to 62 cents. Although An Post claims it is lower, this is somewhere around the European average domestic postal tariff for a standard letter.

However, to post the same letter in the other direction – from anywhere in Northern Ireland to anywhere in the Irish Republic – costs substantially more. In fact while a standard letter (weighing up to 100grams) from Belfast to London costs only 53p, a letter from Belfast to Dublin can cost £2.37 (it’s £1.47 up to 60g). Even a letter from Newry to Dundalk or Strabane to Lifford will cost that amount. The same anomalies also arise with parcels.

The reason for the sizeable differential is that while An Post sees its domestic postalised area as being the entire island of Ireland (and charges a flat rate from anywhere to anywhere on the island), Royal Mail treats the Irish Republic as part of its European tariff zone.

This is not a new found problem but something that businesses and consumers have been complaining about for years. In particular, Northern Ireland businesses marketing into the Republic complain about the damage that it does to their competitiveness. It is also something that has concerned public representatives and an issue that has been brought to the attention of all-island trade development body InterTradeIreland.

SDLP Regional Development Spokesman John Dallat has criticised the current approach to UK-Ireland postal charges and has called for a more rational all-island tariff covering all mail within the island of Ireland.

Sinn Fein West Tyrone representative Michaela Boyle has also highlighted the disadvantages of treating North/South mail like international European zone mail. She has pointed out that a letter from Strabane to Lifford (less than a mile away) not only costs far more than a letter from Strabane to London but it can also take up to a week to arrive. She has claimed this was because, on occasions, such letters would go to a sorting office in Belfast or even to the UK mainland before being remitted to Ireland for distribution. Boyle said that charges to send mail to the South were “crazy” and added: “It is very expensive and no-one can understand it. Royal Mail should review this and the way they operate their zone prices.” Up until now most of the criticism from businesses and politicians has been directed at Royal Mail, but it is not entirely clear that Royal Mail’s attitude alone is the reason why no corrective action has been taken. North/South mail and the possibility of an all-island tariff has been a topic for discussion for a long time between the two postal authorities (which have met frequently over recent years to discuss common issues) so clearly there is resistance somewhere in the system.

Also, under the established system of payment between operators in different jurisdictions, terminal dues are normally paid to the recipient postal authority which actually distributes and delivers the letter. What is not transparent is how much of the Royal Mail’s charges for North/South mail actually reach An Post but it may well be that the arrangement is sufficiently attractive to leave An Post with no strong desire to change it.

Single rate permitted

Postal regulator Ofcom has no preference for pricing North/South mail, a spokeswoman has confirmed. Royal Mail “can choose to set its international prices to the Republic of Ireland at the same level as UK mail” as long as the price is uniform across the UK. A first or second class letter from Derry to Dublin would have to cost the same as a letter from Derby to Dublin.

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