Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

3:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 90: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the method he plans to adopt to introduce post codes here; the reason he has rejected a global positioning system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3892/10]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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A smart economy requires that the underlying infrastructure supports enterprises based on knowledge and innovation. For this, an ability to collate and assess data spatially is a prerequisite and postcodes can play a key role and can deliver economic and social benefits across the whole economy.

Ireland is the only country in the EU that does not have such a postal code in place, but as the Deputy is aware, the Government has now approved the implementation of a postcode system as recommended by the National Postcode Project Board.

This board, which comprised representatives from Departments, together with public and private sector organisations, was established to recommend the most technically appropriate postcode system for Ireland, design an implementation plan and assess the costs and benefits of postcodes.

In the course of its deliberations, the board looked at a number of postcode models and technologies including postal sector models and a number of spatial and hybrid postcode models taking into account several factors including memorability, likely uptake by the public and ability to adapt to emerging technologies. The model recommended, and since approved by Government, is an alpha-numeric, publicly available and accessible postal code model.

Each postcode will have a geo-coordinate at its centre and consequently, would be compatible with global positioning or navigation systems, allowing integration with GPS and other global navigation satellite technologies. Applications based on such systems become much more readily accessible to the public through the use of a postcode.

In arriving at this model, the technical and economic consultants who assisted the board engaged in a series of stakeholder consultations. These consultations revealed overwhelming support for the introduction of postcodes across public, private and voluntary sectors and identified that postcodes would not only deliver benefits for the postal sector, but assist in the delivery of public services and contribute to the development of a knowledge economy and the country’s overall competitiveness.

My officials and I are currently working to address the next steps in this project. A competition will be launched shortly to select a body that will assist the Department in managing the delivery of a working postcodes system. That delivery will be effected by way of a competitive tender process. It is expected that postcodes will be assigned and in use by the end of 2011.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his answer, which is almost identical to the answer he gave in November. The reason I tabled the question is because I believe the Minister is making a big mistake. He is correct to suggest a geo-coordinates based system would allow some compatibility with a GPS, global positioning system, but the problem is the coordinates used would be in the middle of a district relevant to between 20 and 50 houses. This was outlined in the Minister’s report. It will cost approximately €15 million to implement a new postal code system in Ireland after all the work is done and the money spent. I strongly support the idea but there are issues for a HSE ambulance, a courier or a postman that does not know the area. Is it not the case that the new post code system the Minister proposes to introduce will not bring the person with a letter or service directly to a person’s door or address without having local knowledge of the area? If this is the case, is it not a waste of money to introduce a post code system that merely slightly improves what is in place at present - which requires local knowledge for postal delivery - when there is an alternative available which can pinpoint a person’s property accurately through a GPS based model and that is being introduced on a commercial basis anyway by the private sector? Couriers are buying into and the HSE is examining such a system.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I must be careful because within a week we will start a competitive process which should deliver quickly in terms of the exact system we introduce. Given that it will be within a competitive process I must be careful not to skew the result one way or the other. The case is not as set out by Deputy Coveney. I agree with the Deputy that post codes are right for this country and that as well as providing an effective postal code system they should have capability to provide location code facilities for a range of applications that will develop as the smart economy evolves. I agree fully this must be one of the components within the system we develop and deliver. However, the exact mechanism and format will depend on the competitive process. I am not ruling out any one technology but we maintain it should fit within the characteristics set out as a result of the work done over the years in terms of having memorability, accessibility and the ability to evolve into a whole range of other uses which will bring benefits to our economy. The competitive process will determine which technological solution will best provide this. The solution will have to provide both location code services as well as a postal code service and I am committed to delivering this quickly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister and I agree that we must introduce a post code system. However, the point on which the Minister and I disagree and where I believe he and the Government are making a big mistake is that the tendering process being introduced has only invited tenders according to criteria setting out an area based system. He and others have already stated several times that the post code system would only pinpoint areas of the country on the basis of a code down to the nearest 20 to 50 properties. If such a system were introduced to rural Ireland with the ability to narrow down to between 20 and 50 properties such a service would be no better than that which currently exists with the use of local districts or townlands. This is the problem. The tendering process the Minister intends to launch will not facilitate what is known as a one-to-one solution that will bring accuracy in terms of delivery. The Minister may wish to correct me but my understanding is the reason the Minister decided on the model in question was based on one letter written in 2006 by the Data Protection Commissioner, Mr. Billy Hawkes, that outlines his view that there would be data protection issues with a post code system that pinpoints people’s premises. I fundamentally disagree with him on that. There is much evidence to the contrary. Will the Minister outline his reason for rejecting the accurate pinpointing of property in a new post code system based on GPS or some other accurate system for the area based coding which he is introducing?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I am not rejecting any accurate system. It will be up to the competitive tendering process to decide on which system. I have had several good conversations with the Data Protection Commissioner, who has the important job of protecting people from invasion of privacy. That can be done while still delivering a system with the level of accuracy we need for locational code purposes and in the postal code system. It must be done to the satisfaction of the Data Protection Commissioner and I believe it can be done. It must also deliver a range of different services as well as the postal code service. That is what we are seeking in the tendering system, to deliver the best technical solution at the best cost while giving us the services we need.