Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 October 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I sincerely wish her every success in the forthcoming general election. I appreciate her friendship and the warmth she has shown throughout the years since I got to know her. My question is to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I ask him to clarify whether it is possible for constituents to appeal their Eircode when it is different from the property's geographical address.

Dublin residents have raised with me serious concerns about the new Eircode system which places them in an area geographically different from their actual home address. Significant changes in the traditional, designated districts have caused great upset. For example, there are people all over Ireland who have been located in geographically incorrect towns, counties and even provinces. The system has even located Shannon Airport in County Limerick, whereas we all know it is in County Clare, while residents in Leixlip have had Naas added to their address. West Wicklow homes have got a Kildare postcode and, according to Eircode, people from Dublin 16 actually live in Dublin 24. The list of inaccuracies is endless.

In other countries, codes are assigned in an orderly fashion and as a result houses and areas that are close to each other have a similar or the same code. The new Eircode system has created amazing confusion. Every Government agency I have contacted about this issue has completely washed its hands of it. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources redirected me to Capita, which subsequently told me the issue was out of its control as the postcodes are assigned by An Post. It is absolutely absurd that this new Eircode system is live when it is so riddled with flaws.

The system is not fit for purpose in its current form and, strictly speaking, it is not even a postcode system. Even at this late stage, a period of up to one year for an appeal process relating to the Eircode anomaly should be established. It is common sense. The Minister should arrange a consultation with citizens and communities who have legitimate grievances and be ready to make adjustments. After all, we live in a democracy.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I thank the Senator and wish her all the best in the upcoming election, whenever that will be.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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It sounds like November.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Speculation is rife but I am not sure it is correct.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White. I thank Senator Mary White for giving me the opportunity to address the Seanad on this matter. The Minister was delighted to launch Eircode, the new national postcode system for Ireland, this summer. Ireland is the first country in the world to have a unique identifier for all properties in the State. Unlike other countries, where postcodes define clusters or groups of addresses, an Eircode identifies an individual address, rural or urban, and shows exactly where that property is located. The postcode contractor, Capita, with assistance from the postmen and postwomen from An Post successfully delivered a letter to all 2.2 million residential and business addresses notifying them of their Eircode throughout Ireland during July of this year. Another exciting development during the launch was the new online Eircode finder tool on the website www.eircode.ie. The Eircode finder, is an Eircode look-up application that helps citizens and businesses to look up or check Eircodes using a smartphone or a computer.

The most comprehensive address database available in the country is the postal address database which is owned by GeoDirectory, a subsidiary company of An Post and Ordnance Survey Ireland. The GeoDirectory database is provided under licence by An Post GeoDirectory, APG, to Eircode. The GeoDirectory database was used because it is the sole authoritative database in the State for all postal addresses.

It is very important to note that with the introduction of Eircodes, addresses are not changing and people do not need to change the address that they normally use. The addresses displayed on the Eircode finder and on the letters that were sent out to every address in the country are postal addresses as used by An Post. These were used to ensure accurate and efficient delivery of the Eircode notification letters and may have differed from the property's geographical address. Some postal addresses include a post town and county that are different from the geographical county of the address. Whether constituents choose to use the postal address or another form of address, such as the geographical address, the Eircode for the property does not change.

The Eircode is structured so that the first three digits which refer to a routing key are aligned with An Post delivery districts. This is to ensure that the codes are compatible with An Post mailing systems. In order to ensure that An Post can deliver mail, it is not possible to allow constituents to change their Eircode as this would present problems for An Post. This situation has always applied in relation to Dublin postal districts where the Dublin postcode, once assigned, could not be changed by An Post. The same principle applies to the national system of postcodes. It is not possible to change an Eircode but constituents are entitled to use whatever form of address they normally use along with the Eircode.

There are many variations of addresses used in rural Ireland but these occur even in urban areas. The Eircode address database contains a number of alias addresses for each postal address. If members of the public feel that their postal address is incorrect they may wish to inform An Post. An Post will investigate the matter and if it decides to amend the address it will update its central database. Eircode will update its database every three months to reflect the quarterly source data updates it receives from An Post GeoDirectory.What the reply is really saying is that in terms of the address at which I reside - I am sure it is the same for the Senator because we both live in urban areas and know that even in such areas addresses can differ - there are, for example, three different places named Fairhill in Cork and all of them are located within a small geographic area. One's postman and postwoman will know which is the correct on in terms of delivery. I have two separate addresses and I can use either one because they relate to the same location. What the reply is saying is that Eircode is the single identifier, even though one's address might vary from time to time. The single identifier relates to the system used by An Post. I know a little bit about the matter because my daughter happens to be a postwoman. The machinery identifies it and that is the key part. I understand how the matter can be confusing for people, especially those who live in rural areas where, for example, there can be different townlands, parishes, etc. The measure is most definitely designed to ensure that An Post gets it right rather than to cater for what an individual or property owner needs.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I am still unclear about the matter. I must take this opportunity to refer to a recent report compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy. He has major concerns about how taxpayers' money has been spent on Eircode during the past five years. In 2009 it was estimated that Eircode would cost €18 million over an 18-month period. Based on a review of costs to date, it is now estimated that it cost in the region of €38 million.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator has veered away from discussing the matter that she tabled.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Cost is very much part of the mess.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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It is not part of the matter that has been tabled.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Mr. McCarthy claimed that there is a lack of clarity regarding overall achievements since the implementation of Eircode. He said that there were serious concerns regarding the non-competitive basis on which consultants were engaged and that there were significant delays. This is a very serious matter. Tenders were awarded without going through the proper competitive process.

I still want to know what happens if people have a problem with Eircode, as it has been designated. Is there an appeals process available to change an address?

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It would appear from the reply I gave on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that there is not an appeals process per se. Clearly, it is indicated in the reply that if people feel their addresses have been wrongly indicated, they can get in touch with An Post which will investigate the matter. If a concern is upheld then An Post will alter the database. There is a mechanism to appeal but I am not certain one could call it an appeals system, the matter about which the Senator is really concerned.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I do not have the details on the other concerns expressed by the Senator. If I had, I would communicate them to her. I do not have details on the process. I do not think there is a central appeals mechanism but there is a process by means of which one can contact An Post to outline a concern. As stated, An Post's database will be updated every three months and, therefore, it will not take a year for a change to be registered. I presume that if a concern is upheld, the database will be corrected within three months.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.