By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The debut of the new euro coinage hit a hurdle on the first day it went on sale when the union representing owners of the 1,700 smaller post offices around the country slapped a ban on handling them because they haven’t agreed a compensation pay deal.
Ireland, with Holland and France, became the first three countries in Euroland to sell starter packs of the new eight new coins.
The Irish packs, worth the equivalent of _5 (6.35 euros), are designed to encourage people to start familiarizing themselves with the new currency.
The coins are not yet legal tender and can’t be used until the Jan. 1 changeover date, when the euro notes will also go into circulation. Both currencies will be in dual circulation until Feb. 9.
There were lines in Holland when packs containing the equivalent of _3.06 were given away free to everyone over 6.
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In France, where the starter packs contained the equivalent of _12 and were for sale in a similar way to Ireland, there were also lines from midnight.
Publicity surrounding the Irish issue was muted on Friday and there were no lines when the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street became the first place to sell the starter packs when it opened at 8 a.m.
As the day built up, so did business and there was a brisk trade in the packs in banks, building societies and credit unions.
Central Bank spokesman Neil Whoriskey said a million packs were for sale. The Bank has minted and circulated 1.1 billion euro coins worth 285 million euros.
“There is a big curiosity factor with people wanting to finally see what they are like,” Whoriskey said.
The GPO in Dublin sold 23,000 starter packs in the first day and the other 100 post offices directly owned and staffed by the state company sold a further 40,000.
“We expect there will be a steady interest and constant sales as people will want to familiarize themselves with the coins and have some in their pocket before the Janu. 1 changeover,” An Post spokesman John Foley said.
He said the ban by the Irish Postmasters’ Union on dealing with any euro business, including starter packs, had not had a huge effect.
Staff dealing with the euro in the Central Bank, commercial banks, cash transit security companies, bus drivers and a range of personnel in the public service have all agreed compensation deals. Bank staffs are getting about _750 (952 euros).
John Kane, IPU secretary general, said it hasn’t received an acceptable offer from An Post despite negotiations since last August.
The union is seeking a fee-per-item compensation deal that will give members between _150-_1,000, depending on the amount of business involved in each post office.
“It is quite clearly additional work in excess of what they normally do,” Kane said.