On the third of January 1984, postage for a hand-addressed letter or postcard within Ireland was one penny! Wow! (Figure 1) The reason was to celebrate first day of business of a new postal service. This may sound unbelievable, but it was true!
On the first of January, 1984, the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs ceased to exist. This was the ministry that had handled all communications since April 1, 1922 for the Irish government, and before that, the British regime. Taking the place was a private, for profit, corporation owned entirely by the government but without budgetary control by Parliament. This company initially handled only mail, but has since expanded into other fields. The Telegraphs portion, which, by this time, was primarily telephones, was spun off into a similar company, Bord Telecomm Éireann, later known as Eir.
Being private, the company had to make decisions that were generally opposed by legislators. Decisions like raising rates, reducing little-used services, closing under-utilized offices - all these were anathema to any elected representative of a district where such reductions or changes are, or could be, proposed. Ireland was not alone in privatizing such services. Many state-run postal services shared the same fate. The United States did so in 1971. (Figure 2). Most major postal services in Europe had done or was to do likewise. Services provided had to be supportable, and rates reflect the level of service provided.
Many changes occurred. Among the most notable were the closure or consolidation of small offices. Postage rates increased. On the positive side, many tasks were automated. Work was begun on a postal code up date (See entry under Eir Code). This was finally completed in 2015 when every house, apartment, or inhabitable building in the country received a unique postal code which allowed for automated sorting. Ireland had been unique in Europe as the only country without a postal code. Official mail, franked only with a logo was gone. (Figure 3) Government agencies had to use stamps, permits or meters like other businesses. (This had been a major drain on Post Office funds since the PO had paid for all official mail regardless of sender).
Has this been a smooth, painless transition? Of course not. Some rural areas lost offices that did little business. Jobs were changed, people moved, services altered. But, how many of those services were really needed? Do people go to the Post Office to make long distance calls anymore? How often are money orders used today? Is the Post Office the only place for banking?
Back to the Penny Post. The original penny post of 1840 was the start of a new approach to delivering mail. Rates based solely on mileage were abolished. As in 1840, the 1984 change was a quantum leap. As in 1840, mail increased. 94% of the mail is now delivered in one day. More stamps, some with controversial subjects, were produced (The largest volume stamp produced, Che Guevara, was definitely controversial). (Figure 4) This one-day rate was an indicator that things were changing. Good or bad? Possibly both, but it was change.
Ferguson, S, The Post Office in Ireland, Irish Academic Press, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, Ireland,2014.