Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Proposed Postcodes: Statements
Jim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
I am at variance with some of the comments made earlier on the Order of Business to the effect that this is so unimportant that it should not be debated in the Chamber. There are implications and ramifications. It does not reflect well on the people who have been putting forward various arguments for Seanad reform, however, to see the Opposition seats vacant for a debate on a topic which needs their attention. If anything illustrates the importance of greater scrutiny in all aspects of public services, it must be the manner in which some of our important State agencies, such as the Financial Services Regulatory Authority and the Central Bank, were found to be deficient in the run-up to the severe economic downturn we are experiencing. It is only through the input and commitment of people in public life who scrutinise policies as they evolve in all public service sectors, that we can ultimately have the services to which we aspire.
Postcodes have been on the agenda for a considerable time. They have been discussed and, as often as not, dispelled because it was felt that the cost benefit was not justified. I listened with interest to my colleague, Senator Martin Brady, speak on this issue. He has a particular knowledge of the area in that he worked with that company and has an insight into it. I concur in so far as he says that we should maintain good quality jobs in public services. I am a proponent of doing so. The only caveat is that the efficiency and cost effectiveness of those operations would be a measure of the commitment we have to them. We should not therefore be afraid to have efficiencies within those services. There has been a significant change in the manner in which we undertake communications. The advent of new technology, including emails and other forms of electronic communication, means there is less reliance on the postal service. As a consequence we have seen a decline in mail volumes. It is imperative that those businesses respond commensurately to the challenges, which often means embracing new technology, change, efficiency and cost effectiveness. An Post has been applying itself to achieving all those things in recent years. The company will be faced with more acute challenges when the liberalisation of postal services arises from the directive to be implemented on 1 January 2011. Public services generally are faced with such challenges due to the propensity of policy in Brussels to ensure greater competition. Businesses benefit from open markets, rather than suffering as a result of them. It is only if one is inefficient and does not respond to change that one ends up being caught by the open nature of competition. Competition is the lifeblood of business and, in fact, strengthens the value and quality of services provided.
It is interesting to note, as the Minister stated, that Ireland is the only country in the European Union without such postcodes in place. There is widespread public support for the introduction of a postcode system, which must match the technology that is evolving, as well as meeting the needs of liberalisation. It will have benefits, some of which may be difficult to quantify at this stage. They may well be outside the public sector, particularly in linking databases with the Government's various spatial elements.
We are considering using the first three letters of 200 towns in the proposed postcodes. When we introduced the new registration plates for motor vehicles, it was a pity we did not make use of the Irish names of counties, rather than English names. That could have been done. It was talked about at the time, but for some reason we went with the English names. We spend a lot of money on preserving and promoting the Irish language, which I fully support. It is our heritage and part of what we are. We have inherited the benefits of the sacrifice of previous generations, but if we do not value our heritage we can hardly expect anybody else to do so. I ask the Minister therefore to consider using Gaeilge when deciding that aspect of the proposed postcodes.
I am a strong proponent of fiscal rectitude, greater cost effectiveness and efficiency across the public service, which makes people proud of being part of organisations that illustrate and display those criteria and qualities. It is estimated that the benefits to various Departments could amount to €22 million in the medium term, which is a significant saving. I note the initial cost will be €15 million, but the information to date shows there is a cost benefit involved. Past arguments opposing the introduction of postcodes were that they did not pass the cost-benefit analysis test and therefore the cost of introducing them did not justify the savings that might be made. As this matter is considered further, hopefully we will get more evidential support for that case. The Minister is right in moving in this direction. I welcome and support his proposal. While some interesting comments have been made, there are also reservations which should be taken into consideration before the postcodes are finally implemented early in 2011.