Thursday, 11 December 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the total amount spent to date in consultancy fees on the proposed Eircode postcode system; the anticipated estimated cost of the project; the up-to-date progress regarding the roll-out of postcodes; if their implementation will be of help to the viability and future development of the post office network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47395/14]
The figures on the consultancy fees for the setting up of Eircode are exorbitant. I fear we could have a debacle similar to the Irish Water situation if this is allowed to continue in its current form. The Freight Association of Ireland has raised some problems. It said the system will be useless for its members. The chairman of the Fire and Emergency Services Association said the random nature of the system could cause confusion for first responders. This is a very serious matter.
I will be repeating some information as the question is similar to others. The cost to the Exchequer of the national postcode system over the ten-year cycle of the contract is expected to be €27 million, excluding VAT, with costs covering design, database upgrades, media and postcode distribution. A contract was signed with Capita Business Support Services Ireland limited in December 2013 to develop and roll out the national postcode system over a ten-year period. Total spend to date on that contract is €3.22 million. Aside from the contract with Capita, consultancy costs of €1.12797 million, including VAT, have been incurred from 2010 to date on the national postcode system.
The design for the national postcode system was approved by Government and the brand Eircode was launched for the national postcode system in April 2014. Capita launched the website earlier this year.Over recent months, Capita has engaged with a number of private and public stakeholders to brief them on the project and prepare them for the launch of Eircode postcodes next year. Overall, the response to the project has been very positive. To support dissemination of Eircode postcodes, the databases of large public sector bodies are being Eircode enabled. This work is expected to be concluded this month, which means that public sector bodies with large customer-facing databases will be in a position to use the codes immediately on launch.
An extensive public information campaign will commence early next year to inform the public about Eircodes and promote their usage. This will include outreach activities to ensure the public, and especially the vulnerable and hard to reach, obtain information on Eircodes in a timely manner. Eircodes are expected to be launched by the middle of next year when every household and business in the country will receive a letter containing their Eircode. Although not aimed primarily at growing the post office network, it is expected that Eircodes will assist the mail service by providing a stimulus to mail volumes through direct marketing capabilities. In addition, An Post has been selected to disseminate Eircodes next year and will benefit accordingly.
I believe the views of the two organisations to which I referred earlier must be taken on board. In particular, the concerns of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association regarding the emergency services raise the possibility of being faced with catastrophic situations in which fatalities may be involved due to an erroneous system. The association has a problem with the randomised nature of the Eircode system whereby the code generated for each address is random, which means the Eircodes for adjacent properties bear no relation to each other. The lack of a sequenced code structure ensures that the postcode offers no assistance to the drivers who are seeking to negotiate the most efficient route when making either emergency calls or deliveries.
The ironic point in this regard is that An Post already has set up a code of its own and has stated it does not require this new postcode as such.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. On the first point with regard to emergency services, my information is that the ambulance services have welcomed it. I do not have information on fire services but my officials certainly will follow up on that point. An exhaustive consultative process has been carried out in this regard and consequently, I am sure the fire services already have been contacted. However, if concerns exist there, the Department must follow up on them. In respect of the non-sequenced nature of the Eircode system, there probably is a couple of elements in the thinking behind it. First, one reason behind the non-sequenced mechanism is the desire to avoid setting up a discriminatory system in which certain areas could be targeted by geography or otherwise if they all were in one block. Second, a feature of development in Ireland is the use of once-off housing. The Deputy might consider an example of a roadway in his own constituency in which two houses stand at present. It is possible that in two years' time, a brother or sister will build a house in between the two. It would be difficult to come up with a sequenced system that would build into future planning. However, I certainly will raise the concern regarding the fire services.
The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner also had some difficulties in this regard. In its most recent report, it reflected on how the Eircode system will award individual codes to each address, contrary to advice the then commissioner gave as long ago as 2005. This is being done contrary to his advice when at that time, he warned that a code which identified unique address instead of wider areas would pose a problem for data protection. Nevertheless, on 8 October 2013, the then Minister announced that the Cabinet had agreed to the roll-out of a unique seven-digit character code to each letterbox. I believe this matter should be reconsidered.
I acknowledge that a number of concerns were raised in the past. There always will be issues with a new system but with regard to the Data Protection Commissioner, as part of the Department's approach to the introduction of Eircodes, communications between the two have addressed the implementation, dissemination and commercialisation of Eircodes to ensure adherence to all pertinent data protection legislation. The Data Protection Commissioner's office has been advised of and has noted the rationale and policy justification for the approach suggested for the Eircode roll-out and implementation. However, I believe the key point regarding the roll-out is the intricate - I will not use that word and even am struggling with English words these days - the intrinsic link between An Post and the system. It will be part of the roll-out and its expertise and knowledge base is absolutely paramount to the success of this project because it has its GeoDirectory and has the information whereby postal staff on the ground know precisely where the people are. Consequently, An Post is a key and integral part of this development.