The officials yesterday appeared before the joint Oireachtas committee on transport and communication along with representatives from An Post and Capita Ireland, the company tasked with introducing the system.
The meeting, which lasted more than two hours, heard officials defend the implementation of Eircodes across a number of criticisms that have recently plagued the system, including the code’s structure, data protection concerns, the tendering process for the postcodes contract, and the cost of implementing Eircode.
The meeting followed the Freight Transport Association of Ireland’s appearance before the committee two weeks ago. The representative body then described Eircodes as “useless” and argued the non-sequential nature of the codes offered little assistance to the logistics industry. The Data Protection Commissioner had previously aired concerns that the manner in which the code identifies individual addresses, instead of areas or clusters as is the practice in other countries, would raise privacy issues.
However, Patricia Cronin, programme manager with the department, yesterday said the code had been designed to address the problem posed by non-unique addresses across the country. Ms Cronin said that over 35% of Ireland’s 2.2m address points are non-unique, which particularly poses an issue in identifying rural addresses where many share surnames.
Ms Cronin said it was the department’s position that introducing a sequential unique code to every address was not possible as this would not take into account the possibility of new houses or apartment blocks being built within a sequence of existing addresses. Using randomised codes would also prevent “postcode discrimination and ghettos”, she maintained.
The committee heard that the Eircode’s cost to the State would be in the region of €27m and that the “future-proofed” system was the first of its kind in the world to provide codes to individual addresses.
“There’s no other country in the world that uses a unique identifier postcode at this time. It’s a world first,” Liam Duggan of Capita Ireland said. He said smaller businesses could avoid significant costs by taking the new codes from customers on an ongoing basis instead of paying for the database.
Some committee members were critical of the new postcode, however. Independent Senator Sean Barrett said he remained unconvinced that there was a need for Eircode, and said he would not vote in favour of it if it were to come before him in the Seanad in its current guise.
In response to Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan (FG), Eamon Molloy, assistant secretary at the department, confirmed that the European Commission had criticised the Department for a provision within the original tendering process that precluded companies with a turnover of less than €40m from bidding for the contract. Eamonn Molloy from the Department said the case with the commission was now closed, and that nothing prevented businesses with lower turnover from bidding as part of the Eircode consortium. In light of criticisms of the code from the Data Protection Commissioner, Ms Cronin said that Eircode would take a “belt and braces approach” to privacy, and that the Department had engaged in a Privacy Impact Assessment with stakeholders and advocacy groups.