Lost and found: Addressing the myriad problems with Eircode

Plans to introduce a postcode system this year have created more questions than

Lost and found: Addressing the myriad problems with Eircode

What is Eircode?

Eircode is Ireland’s postcode, which is due to be launched this year. It is a seven-character code that is randomised for every address in the country. The first three characters of the code divide the country into larger regions, much like the area code of a landline telephone number. That, however, will be the only part of the code that neighbouring houses will share, as the final four digits are completely randomised.

What makes it different from other countries’ postcodes?

A randomised postcode that identifies unique addresses, and not clusters of addresses, has never been done before. The Department of Communications and Capita Ireland, the company which was awarded the contract to rollout Eircode, have hailed the design as “world-beating” and “future proof”. They say it will tackle the issue of non-unique addresses in Ireland. Some 35% of Irish addresses are not unique, particularly in rural areas where many homes just have the townland as its given address.

So what’s the problem?

While it has been welcomed by An Post and courier group Nightline, Eircode has faced mounting criticism since its design was launched. The Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association warned that the random nature of the code could “cost lives” as the random design cannot be learned and are not predictable so that emergency services can find localities easily from memory. They say that an error in relating the code would go unnoticed and could send emergency services to the wrong location. Companies such as FedEx, DHL, UPS, Pallet Express, and BOC Ireland have all publicly declared that they will not use Eircode due to its design. They say the randomised nature of the code will not allow drivers or members of the public to find areas by reading the code by sight. All say that a hierarchical code would meet their demands.

What’s a hierarchical code?

A hierarchical code is what it used in the UK, for example. It’s a code that identifies a larger area with its first few characters, and then every subsequent character identifies smaller and smaller areas. For example, the postcode for No 10 Downing Street in London is SW1A 2AA, while the UK Cabinet’s office, which is around the corner, from No 10 is SW1A 2AS.

Why wasn’t a hierarchical code used?

While a hierarchical code was recommended to the department by both a State board established in 2005 to advice on postcodes and a private consultancy company, the department said it has accepted Capita Ireland’s view that a hierarchical code is not suitable. It says that such a design would have led to disputes, postcode discrimination, and ‘postcode ghettos’, as well as bringing problems of future-proofing, requiring postcodes to change when new development occurs. The Freight Transport Association of Ireland, however, claims that Capita used “spurious, inaccurate, bogus, unsupported, and, in some cases, simply fabricated reasoning” in rejecting a hierarchical code. The association claims it was designed to suit An Post “to the exclusion of its competitors”.

Has there been any other criticisms of Eircode?

Yes. The Data Protection Commissioner has, since 2005, advised the department not to use unique identifying codes for privacy reasons. Communications Minister Alex White is to bring legislation to the Dáil that he says will address these concerns. Digital Rights Ireland, a privacy advocacy group, has criticised the design and said Eircode is “taking a dangerous and needless step into the unknown”, adding that there is great uncertainty associated with this new type of postcode design.

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