Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

9:00 pm

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)

I thank Deputy Hoctor for placing this matter on the Adjournment. As she has raised similar issues at our parliamentary party meetings, I take this opportunity to recognise her considerable interest in this matter. I apologise to her for the fact that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, cannot attend this evening, but I will respond on his behalf.

A smart economy envisages economic development based on innovation and sustainability and an economy aiming for high end performance requires that the underlying infrastructure supports enterprises based on knowledge and innovation. A key element of national infrastructure is a common spatial identifier across the economy. Postcodes provide this common identifier, which will assume greater importance as we become more embedded in the digital economy.

Ireland is the only EU country that does not have such a postal code in place, but the Government has recently approved the implementation of a postcode for Ireland as recommended by the National Postcode Project Board. Comprising representatives from Departments and public and private sector organisations, the board was established to recommend the most appropriate postcode system for Ireland and to examine the costs and benefits and the implementation of postcodes.

For any developed country, a postcode system is a key piece of national infrastructure that can deliver economic and social benefits across all sectors of the economy and consultations around this project have revealed widespread support for their introduction. The recommendation is an alphanumeric, publicly available and accessible postcode. The country would be divided into approximately 200 post towns, within each of which will be groups of approximately 40 to 50 properties. The postcode will have the structure ABC 123, with the first three characters representing the post town and the second three characters representing the group of properties in which the particular building is located. The six-character code was selected for a number of reasons, including the ability of the population to remember their codes. The inclusion of a reference to the placename would also assist in this regard.

The uptake of the code by the public is central to its success. People need not be concerned about their existing addressing customs. There is nothing in the proposal that requires individuals to change their address structures. People can be assured that they can still use local placenames or townlands in addressing mail. Postcodes will just be an additional line on their existing address structure.

Postcodes are a key enabling feature of a competitive postal market and can present significant commercial opportunities for all postal service providers, including An Post. Besides enabling more efficient deliveries, postcodes can boost mailing volumes by facilitating the development of the direct mail industry, which is and will be an increasingly important source of income for operators facing competition from electronic media and declining mail volumes generally.

Furthermore, some of the more significant benefits of having a postcode in place will materialise outside of the postal and logistics sectors. Postcodes will provide an enhanced capacity and capability to use spatial data effectively and link databases with spatial elements across Government. Using spatial data more effectively can improve public policy making and help with the more effective use of resources. It is important, now more than ever, that public finances are spent in a targeted and effective manner. Postcodes will also facilitate better location-based services and the speedier deployment of emergency services. For example, it will help to eliminate confusion about addresses with similar names and thereby save time and maybe lives.

Postcodes will bring benefits to much more than just the postal sector. They can contribute to the development of a knowledge economy and the country's overall competitiveness. As a key piece of national infrastructure, they will deliver economic and social benefits, which we will reap long into the future. At the same time, they will not impact on existing local placenames or townlands, which I hope responds to the Deputy's proposals. Postcodes will add an extra dimension to the existing address structure.

Following on from the Government approval to implement postcodes, the officials in the Minister's Department are working to address the next steps in this project, including the process of selecting a body to implement the proposed system. It is expected that postcodes will be assigned and in use in 2011.

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