Will Eircode ever become part and parcel of everyday life?

Eircode has cost the country €27m, and the problems that have come to light in the three days since its launch confirm detractors’ long-held fears, writes Joe Leogue

THE problems that have arisen in the three short days since Eircode’s launch have confirmed many of the long-held fears expressed by the system’s detractors.

That a house in Kilkenny received two different Eircodes addressed to named individuals is a cause for concern, given the postcode operator’s assurances that the database does not store personal information about residents.

It has since been established that one of the two codes received was supposed to be delivered to an adjacent property — which highlights the paradoxical problem facing the system’s rollout.

If we need Eircode to increase the accuracy of postal deliveries to non-unique addresses, how can we be sure that the postal system is bringing these codes to the right addresses in the first place? Can homeowners be certain that letters coming through their doors over the next two weeks contain the correct Eircode for their house?

If the database does not contain any personal information, as the Department of Communication and Eircode maintain, then it follows that the postcodes should be issued to the unnamed “occupier” of a premises. If this is the case, how will postal workers distinguish between numberless houses on the same road when dropping the Eircodes to each address?

Earlier this week, Digital Rights Ireland repeated its caution over Eircode, warning of the potential detrimental impacts a postcode identifying individual houses can address. By way of example, it proposes a plausible situation whereby a customer enters their Eircode on a shopping chain’s “store locator” website.

Whereas other postcodes around the world identify a cluster of addresses, Eircode identifies a unique address.

Digital Rights Ireland warns that in such examples unscrupulous operators may take the Eircode entered into the store locator, cross reference it with the database, and target the address with junk mail.

The “moving addresses” issue that has seen Shannon Airport relocated to Limerick and homeowners across the country questioning their county allegiance continues to stoke ire and amusement in equal measure.

The explanation behind this problem, however, points to a much bigger issue that explains in part why Eircode is now the subject of a complaint to the European Commission.

Eircode say that they have added postcodes to An Post’s existing address database. Under this database, post was directed to one place before it was forwarded on to another — so mail intended for Shannon, Co Clare, would have been sent to Limerick to be forwarded onto its final destination. This is why Shannon Airport’s address on the database is “Shannon Airport, Shannon, Limerick”.

But the very fact that Eircode uses An Post’s database, and that the code’s first three digits refer to An Post’s postal districts, is partly the reason why private operators are taking a case to the European Commission against the new postcode on competition grounds.

The Freight Transport Association of Ireland (FTAI) says its members deliver around 35% of all parcels sent to Irish addresses, and that its volume accounts for roughly half of the value of all packages sent here.

It says Eircode has been designed to suit An Post, despite the postcode project’s stated ambition to develop a system that would not favour any single operator. In its complaint to the commission, the FTAI says it considers the structure of Eircode “to be an unlawful State-sponsored attempt by An Post to maintain a competitive advantage in the delivery of parcels” and that its design does nothing to support navigation or route optimisation.

Asked to comment on this development at Monday’s Eircode launch, Communications Minister Alex White said that he was unaware of any such legal challenge. This newspaper reported that the complaint had been lodged with the commission on July 2, 10 days prior to Eircode’s launch. The FTAI says it wrote to the minister informing him of their action earlier this month.

Another body looking into Eircode is the Comptroller and Auditor General. Both Eircode’s detractors and opposition parties will await the public spending watchdog’s pronouncement on the €27m system with interest. Its report is expected in the autumn.

Having encoded over 2m addresses and commenced the rollout of postcodes, the challenge now facing Eircode is winning public confidence.

Siptu yesterday joined the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association in calling on the HSE and National Ambulance Service to delay the introduction of Eircode for paramedics until it has been proven to be fit for purpose. Eircode needs to allay these concerns, and convince both the public and businesses that it is a system that is worth using. Given that An Post’s had a 98% next-day delivery rate and that a number of delivery companies say that they will not use the system, it is hard to see where Eircode will deliver efficiencies in the delivery sector.

If it can win over the public, if the teething problems seen over the past few days can be ironed out and should the commission decide that the FTAI complaint has no merit, Eircode will become, to some extent, part and parcel of everyday life.

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