06 January, 2010

Why Postcodes will provide joined-up Government

I had a natter yesterday on the Last Word with Matt Cooper on TodayFM about postcodes. 

Liz McManus from the Labour Party was on with me, and to put it frankly I was gob-smacked that she and her party are currently opposing the introduction of postcodes.

Postcodes (sometimes known as location codes) are a way of making it easier and quicker for post to get delivered. They also function as location codes that will allow us to better plan for services in the future whether it’s new schools or health services.

They will save lives by ensuring that emergency services can pinpoint a specific address. John Kidd of National fulltime Fire-fighters, SIPTU said:
 “It is no exaggeration to say lives will be saved”.

Dozens of street names are duplicated in Dublin, and even a moment’s confusion in despatching an ambulance can make the crucial difference. There’s a Quarry Road in Shankill, as well as one in Cabra. There’s also a Pembroke Lane in Dublin 2 as well as Dublin 4. I know this because I remember my sister telling me about the Guards battering down the door of one of her neighbours looking for a drug dealer a few years ago. The unfortunate women had to inform them that there were two Pembroke Lanes before they stopped attacking her front door with a sledgehammer.

There’s a Ballybeg in Antrim, Carlow, Down, Waterford and one in Wicklow. I’ve no idea how many ‘Old Bog Roads’ we have in Ireland but chances are that more than one or two squad cars, ambulances or letters have gone to the wrong one because we don’t have a postcode system.

Postcodes will make it easier to provide joined up government. It’ll make it easier for the Central Statistics Office to allow census data to be analysed and correlated to information held by the Department of Health, Education or the Revenue Commissioners. This will allow us to to better plan for school numbers or health facilities. The Geodirectory database developed by An Post and the Ordnance Survey is a good step in the right direction to providing postcodes in Ireland, but it needs to go further in order to allow the public, businesses and semi-state agencies to take full advantage of the benefits.

You won’t lose your old address. That’ll still be used in mailing. You’ll still be able to put Dublin 4, or 14 on an envelope, but it may also come with something along the lines of D04 123 or D14 567 to better pinpoint your position. Satnavs will operate better, and so will home delivery. Some companies have come up with good ideas for postcodes already.

I’ve been posting out 35,000 newsletters every six months or so for the last eight years. An Post as far as I know still can’t allow me the option of sending them only to constituents in the Dún Laoghaire Dáil constituency. With postcodes accurately determining the boundaries, this type of delivery will be a piece of cake. Of course direct marketing companies will be rubbing their hands with glee, but if it is done correctly it will be possible to opt out of corporate direct mailings from the An Post database. Sure, it will open up the market, but that creates opportunities as well as challenges for An Post and others. I’d say it’ll create and protect jobs. It will take us finally into the 20th, if not the 21st century.

If data protection Issues can be successfully resolved, and I don’t see why they can’t,  it’ll allow us to burrow down into data that is lost by the law of large numbers. 

-Has access to third level really increased over the last decade for people in disadvantaged areas, or do the statistics simply show that there was an influx of graduates into a gentrifying neighbourhood? 

-Is there a cancer cluster of statistical significance beside an old landfill site? 

Location codes will allow us to answer these questions. 

Of course you can still do much of this number crunching with existing data, but it’s difficult to correlate information for the Bray Road, or Main Street,  or Blackrock Stradbrook to other data. Postcodes  will provide the matrix or the glue that will allow for better government to happen overnight.

The majority of countries have post codes. Afghanistan doesn’t, Angola doesn’t, and I thought Albania didn’t but Wikipedia tells me it now does. 117 of the 190 member countries of the Universal Postal Union have postal code systems. In Canada even Santa Claus’s factory at the North Pole has a postcode. It’s HOH OHO of course.

As far as I can see we are the last country in the EU without a publicly accessible postcode system. Liz McManus feels it may cost up to €50 million to introduce. I suspect the costs will be closer to €15 million, and that the money will be recouped quickly through efficiencies in the delivery of services.

This is a modernising initiative, and is long overdue. The days of old-style protectionism are over. I fully support this initiative.


Mór Rígan said...

Then you support the wrong system. The proposed plan is following the British model and using letters and digits. This is a decision made without taking various elements into account like the similarity of

0 and O
S and 5


Numbers only is international best practice. Can't this gov get a single thing right?

Obviously IRE needs a post code system but why must we also follow the Brits especially when their system has been proved obsolete. Lack of independent thinking has been the hallmark of this gov of which you are a part.

Ciarán said...


Happy to consider all systems.

The http://www.irishpostcodes.ie/ idea is impressive though

Joe said...

A couple of valid points, and a lot of waffle.

> I suspect the costs will be
> closer to €15 million, and
> that the money will be recouped
> quickly through efficiencies
> in the delivery of services.
It won't be recouped by An Post or government services, but by private delivery companies, SatNav makers, etc.

Your argument about duplicate road names in Dublin doesn't hold water - An Post say there's only one road that appears twice in any Dublin XX area.

Similarly the stuff about statistics gathering is a nice to have, but doesn't make anything new possible. Every address in Ireland is unique, and listed in An Post / Data Ireland's Prevision Address database.

Mór Rígan said...

Well a proposal was sent to your glorious leader over two months ago. It was rejected without consideration because the decision had already been made.

You might want to check with Gormley

Gerard Cunningham said...

Will the postcodes be opensourced and available for all to see and use?
The crowd will come up with ideas you never thought of for useful applications based on that data, but not if its buried behind the usual layers of red tape that surround government projects. Please don't turn this into another Dublin Bikes app debacle.

Anonymous said...

How about you actually state exactly what the resolution of the code is going to be - Eamonn Ryan stated 10-20 and 40-50 properties in the Seanad. Data Commissioners letter states 20-50 properties and the consultants report very specifically states townlands up to 50 properties outside urban areas where 40% of the population lives. So how will that be of use to anyone especially Emergency Services? Why did Eamonn Ryan say that it will not have a GPS capability and then say it was something with the same or better capabilities - smacks of someone who does not know what he is talking about????

This is not been looked at by people who know what they are talking about....if they did they would realise that to make this type of system work in rural areas with a single postcode that covers every house, then road names and property numbers have to be added to distinguish one house from another. This means changing peoples addresses which will not go down well with property owners.
So you are advocating a system similar to Northern Ireland but without adding road names and property numbers like they had to do and which resulted in huge opposition - not going to work.

Also even in urban areas clustering people together in clusters of 20-50 properties is just property rezoning in a differnt guise- it is obvious nobody has considered the political backlash from disgruntled property owners who are not happy about the cluster they are in. Take Dublin 4 for example where everything has been done to maintain D04 in the new system. However currently everyone in D04 has the same status - can you imagine the fallout when some are in the more desirable D04 001 and the plebs end up in D04 999.

I admire Eamon Ryan as a politician but he really does not understand what the consultants are trying to implement and he is just quoting bullshit that they have sold him - such as "a data system which will be better than GPS"

Plus NUIM already designed the Small Area Code but they were not consulted about the postcode - can you please send the detailed proposal to them ask them to give their opinion (Prof Martin Charlton) before anyone tries to impose this ill conceived postcode on the unsuspecting and to be rezoned public - over and out!!!

Anonymous said...

Does not the consultant's report also say that An Post will require to be paid €37 million to gear up for the proposed system?

Add that cost to whatever the real cost of implementing the proposed system is - so the least cost will €52 million - that's without the legal costs associated with property owners taking the Dept Of Communications to court due to devaluation of their property after rezoning...

Anonymous said...

And looks like more of the truth here:

Ken Westmoreland said...

their system has been proved obsolete.

By whom?

Britain is not the only country to have an alpanumeric postcode system - Canada and the Netherlands
have one as well, while Argentina has adopted one.

Alphanumeric codes store more information than number only ones, which need to be much longer - take the US's ZIP + 4 system.

The proposed system is worse than the British one, as it would have fewer codes available. Using abbreviations based on English-language names is also a bad idea - the system should be language neutral.

The Dutch system (four digits and two letters) could be a better model. An Post already have a three-digit sortcode system, which could be used as the basis of a new postcode system. Dublin 1 is 101, so the postcode for the GPO could be Dublin 1010 AA.

The GPS system - http://www.irishpostcodes.ie/ is hideous - there's no standard format, with some codes made up entirely of letters.

Jim Kearns said...


you are correct on the amtter of an alphanumeric code but you are wrong on the matter of the system at www.irishpostcodes.ie. This system - the PON Code system - is always alphanumeric.

I agree on the matter of the proposed one being worse that the UK one - when you think about it the Postcode in Northern Ireland has 7 Characters and what is proposed here for a much bigger area is 6 - obviously giving far less codes for the number of properties and far less flexibility for growth.

Finally, there is no direct comparison between the UK and the Canadian System - the Canadian system is mainly not related to postal towns, it is only 6 charcaters and uses alternating letters and numbers.

Ken Westmoreland said...

Thanks Jim,

However, according to this press release - http://www.irishpressreleases.ie/printer-page.php?p=2529 - there are examples of letter-only codes.

Pier Road Inniscrone

Muckross Park Hotel Kilarney

Dublin Airport

The Canadian system is related to regions (either provinces or parts of provinces in the case of Quebec and Ontario).

In fact, Canada made a mess of its postcode system, with postal addresses in some cities changing twice in ten years. Until 1968, a Toronto address would have a zone number, eg: 'Toronto 5'. After that, it would have a three-digit code, eg: 'Toronto 100', and three years after, it would have changed to the current system, 'Toronto M4B 1B5'

In the Dutch system, as I outlined above, the letter combinations don't represent any geographical area.

This would be much more efficient than the system being proposed in Ireland, offering ten times as many combinations.

D01 000 - D01 999
1000 combinations

101 0AA - 101 9ZZ
5760 combinations
(excludes 'I' and 'O')

This would allow the allocation of postcodes to large users, and to temporary structures, as proposed by GPS Ireland.

Only two countries in the world have withdrawn postcodes from use: Namibia and East Timor. In the case of Namibia, this was two years after independence from South Africa. In the case of East Timor, it was because the UN didn't reintroduce them after Indonesia pulled out.

Jamaica introduced an alphanumeric postcode system (eg Kingston JMAKN 05) - and then suspended it!

Jim Kearns said...


see what you mean on irishpostcodes - but think that is quite old - have looked at current version on their site and it is definitely always alphanemeric.

Also agree that it is important to provide codes for non properties

Oisín said...

Ciaran, another advantage, which of course the labour party and FG won't like! Geailgeoiri will be able to give their addresses in Irish! Up until now there was always a risk the post wouldn't come, or at least would be delayed by a few days. I lived in Gortlee (Gort Laoi) a suburb of letterkenny. I used my address in Irish and routinely received post 1-2 days late with a "Gort an Choirce" (Gortahork) post mark!

Ken Westmoreland said...

Interesting that people talk about 'following the Brits' - it was the British Postal Consultancy Services (part of Royal Mail) which told An Post that it didn't need a postcode system and that it could use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) instead.

New Zealand Post used a similar argument until 2006, when it introduced the current postcode system, required for all items of mail.

Up until then, postcodes were only required for presorting mail in bulk. However, if you did put a postcode in a New Zealand address, it would still be sorted automatically. The CWU in Ireland is saying that it would cost millions to adapt An Post's sorting machines to recognise postcodes.

Billy said...

I think that the day we had to give the fire brigade directions was the day that the idea was sold to me.

And having to draw a map for the guard in the station that is 5km away was crazy. People have lived here on this road since 1978.

garydubh said...

PON Codes now released as Loc8 Codes at www.loc8code.com - with support of Garmin

Conor O'Nolan said...

New postcode proposal at www.icode6.com. Accurate location code with a human dimension