Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Question 5: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason behind the proposed introduction of a new national postcode system; the timeframe for the introduction of such a system; the overall anticipated cost of the new postcode system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20110/05]
Deputies should be aware that Ireland is the only country in the EU which does not have a national postcode system. A system of postcodes is regarded internationally as a necessary element of a modern, efficient and competitive economy. The Commission for Communications Regulation, the remit of which includes postal services, produced a report following a consultative process in November 2003. The report, which is broadly in favour of the introduction of a postcode system, is a useful contribution to debate on the issue.
I am favourably disposed to the introduction of postcodes. The case has been made that a national postcode system would offer significant potential benefits for the postal business, public utilities, businesses and consumers. I established a working group comprised of people with experience of the postal sector and a representative of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is the lead Department for the Irish spatial data infrastructure initiative, to consider the introduction of a postcode system in Ireland. This group produced its report earlier this year.
The report found that the introduction of a publicly available postcode could deliver many potential benefits. The purpose of a postcode system would be to improve efficiencies and quality in the postal sector, stimulate mail volume growth, assist utilities and emergency services, address the problem of non-unique addressing and facilitate competition by making it easier for new postal operators to enter the market. These improvements collectively will boost the country's competitiveness.
Following on from the recommendations of the working group report, consideration of the feasibility, design and implementation of a practical postcode project proposal will be advanced, including establishing the cost of implementing such a postcode and how that cost should be met. In accordance with the recommendation of the working group that project managers be appointed to lead the postcode project, I have asked the Commission for Communications Regulation to appoint the project managers. A national postcode project board, comprising representatives of Departments together with public and private sector organisations, will be appointed by me to assist the project managers with their work and to present a proposal describing in sufficient detail a model that is the most efficient, effective and publicly usable postcode system by 31 December 2005. I expect the new postcode system will be implemented by 1 January 2008.
The Minister did not give any figures regarding one of the most important issues I had asked about — cost. Does he accept it would cost upwards of €6 million for An Post to implement the type of system which the Minister favours? I welcome the fact that we have a chance to discuss this with the Minister on the floor of the House. I raised the matter here in recent weeks but the Minister was unable to be present.
The report of the postcode working group appears to be ambiguous on the matter. In 21 out of 32 countries where postcodes are in use the post only reaches the delivery office area or a higher level and in eight further countries the post reaches a subset of that. The vast bulk of post in these countries cannot be delivered to the door. Is it not a fact that An Post already has a remarkable geo-directory? I have a guide to the technical data which in effect give a spatial grid reference for every property in the State, including the Minister's house and mine. That being so, is it not incumbent on us to go past the archaic postcode technology used in other countries and to follow the most up-to-date technology? The report is ambiguous and does not provide any detail on cost. Given the struggle An Post has had in recent years, the last thing it needs is an extra €6 million, €10 million or more on its cost base. We are very nervous of the Minister in this regard, given that he is the €50 million man.
Some €50 million worth of technology is stored in warehouses around the State and we do not know if it will ever be used. We are quite nervous about this. Given that a business case has not been made in the report, is it not the case that the end result will be a facility that will inflict a load of junk mail and such literature on households and businesses?
It is not true what the Minister said at the outset that this country does not have postcodes. We have had postcodes in Dublin for the past three or four decades.
Yes, the famous Dublin 4. I live in Dublin 17. Is it not the case that those postcodes have been used repeatedly, especially in the property market to categorise areas and people most unfairly? If it were possible for us to have a postcode which was just as private as our credit card number, as the broadcaster Pat Kenny said recently, should we not do that and use the technology we have rather than return to an older technology which has all kinds of implications?
I note that the report does not comment on issues of privacy and the socio-economic categorisation of the population. It did not even investigate those areas. Is this something which the Minister and his project team should reconsider before spending perhaps tens of millions of euro on what may turn out to be a madcap scheme?
He appeared to condemn me for introducing a very effective, efficient method of voting and counting votes but he has absolute and total faith in the geo-directory to which he referred and that is available to An Post.
It is based on the same kind of technology that is used in the voting system. I am delighted with Deputy Broughan's conversion. Perhaps he will look again at some of the benefits of the voting system now that he has been converted.
The Deputy appears to know the shape of the postcode system although I do not know what it will be. I hope the people whom we will appoint will have enough sense to look at the systems that are in place. The Deputy has shown that this information is widely available. I hope they can learn from the 32 other countries to which he referred and devise a system that will overcome the pitfalls he has rightly pointed out. I have a level of faith in the people who will be appointed as managers of this project that they will go that step further to make it an effective and efficient postcode system.
I can only go on what An Post has said to me. It has the geo-directory to which Deputy Broughan referred. I asked An Post if we could translate this into a postcode system but it appears that the geo-directory product is not a postcode system but an address database that is linked to geographical co-ordinates. It provides a unique identifier but An Post informs me that it is not a postcode system. Apart from anything else, I believe postcodes should be a public good. They are a public good and they should be available to everybody. Everybody should have the information on the system. It should not be the property of a private company that wants to make money just for the sake of it. I am sure the Deputy, who would claim and would bow in that direction to be a far greater socialist than I——
——would like to see this as a public good rather than for it to be operated as a private concern.
In regard to the other point the Deputy made about inflicting costs on An Post, it has not been decided who will operate this system.
If the group makes that recommendation to me, that is fine. Obviously that will be taken into consideration. It could also say that it should be operated by a separate State or semi-State body or that it should be controlled by a Department and operated by a private company in the context of public good. A number of different models could be used. I have not made up my mind and will not until I know the recommendations of the group.
As far as I am concerned this is a public good. Whatever about the costs of setting it up as a public good, those costs will not be inflicted on An Post as a company. One of the terms of reference of the group is to create a system that pays for itself on an annual basis, such that it would not be a burden on An Post or any other utility that happens to run it.