…kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat…

Irish Republic to get post codes by 01/01/2008 – Film at 11.

The recent announcement by the Irish Department of Communications that the a post code system will be implemented in the Irish Republic has been met with howls of anguish from the incumbent postal operator (An Post, which is Irish for ‘The Post’, which sums up the level of ‘out of the box’ thinking that is sometimes displayed by this organ of the State) and reactionary soundbites from anti-postcode activists to the effect that the ‘probable increase in mail volumes’ actually means we’ll all be swept along on an avalanche of junk mail.

Somewhat perplexingly, the Department of Communications has not been quick to counter the knee-jerk junk-mail accusations with anything that points out the additional benefits that could accrue from a structured postal code system, which could include improved management of junk mail suppression files by companies and/or the Data Protection Commissioner as a result of easier matching and de-duplication of mailing lists and suppression lists. This would actually serve to reduce instances of unsolicited direct mail. The increase in mail volumes that the Department’s report into Post Codes could just as readily be attributed to the increased use of the postal service for transacting business such as mail-order retail (an industry that has struggled to succeed in Ireland due to our lack of post codes) or increased fulfilment of e-business transactions by mail.

An Post has pointed out that they have already invested millions in what they say is the most advanced postal sorting system in Europe and as such post codes aren’t needed for them to sort mail (this is an important point). Of course, just because we have the most advanced postal sorting system doesn’t mean that we have the levels of service efficiency that they have in other countries. Like those ones that have post codes. By investing in an over-engineered sorting system which is effectively a bespoke solution for Ireland, An Post would have preculded opportunities to achieve economies of scale through reuse of systems and processes implemented elsewhere in the world. What possible justification could there be for an ostensibly commercial organisation serving a small market (less than 5 million souls) to invest in a ‘once-off’ postal sorting system rather than adopt the standard approach used in other countries of having postal code system that other postal service operators could use easily? In effect, they decided to build a wood-burning car even though everyone else was using diesel for the simple reason that they thought they owned the forest.

The largest union in An Post has come out broadly in favour of the proposal. Hang on… isn’t it suppoed to be Government + Employer ganging up on the proletariat? What does it tell you when the UNION comes out in favour of the plan when the employer objects? Could it be that the union members are tired of getting splinters from fuelling up the wood-burning car and all they can see for miles around now are fields?

An Post claims it will cost €6million to overhaul their systems. Then again, this is the commercial enterprise who’s response to declining sales is to up their prices. If they dug up Adam Smith, wrapped him in copper wire and replaced his tombstone with a magnet that logic would make him spin so fast that they would soon outstrip the ESB as a supplier to Irish consumers. Speaking of which – how much did the ESB have to invest in changing its systems and processes to allow for market opening and deregulation? Quite a bit. And one of the things that cost the most amount of money to address in that process was the management of and standardisation of address data – which would have been made a lot easier if there had been postcodes.

The medium to long term benefits to the Irish economy of a proper post code system are immense. For a start, it would assist in reducing direct costs to businesses by reducing the time take by call-centre staff (for example) to handle enquiries. It would also allow for additional types of ‘geographic’ based services to be offered to Irish consumers – such as useful classified directory enquiries that could tell you where the nearest restraunt is to you rather than giving you a list of all those that are in the same county or postal sorting area.

Post Codes are about more than just mail sorting. In Ireland, we currently use postal zones. The Dublin ‘post code’ is actually a misnomer – it is a postal district identifier. The only national standard database for address data is produced by An Post and has been developed to suit the requirements of postal delivery in that it is built around the idea of postal zones. This gets to be a little bit crazy when the database of record decides that, to facilitate An Post, an entire town has to be moved to a different county. Ballyhaunis Co. Mayo is actually listed in the An Post address standard as being in Co. Roscommon.

For businesses (or political parties or charities or government agencies) trying to identify locations and perhaps trying to ensure that they have correctly identified a person in the context of a location the existing standard is not fit for purpose. A properly implemented postal code that relates to an actual location rather than an administrative office would greatly improve the situation and would make matters such as Data Protection compliance easier. Law enforcement and Emergency services functions would also improve due to an improvement in the quality of a critical piece of data.

Granted, not every country has a post-code system. The following countries don’t have post codes in operation at present:

  • Afghanistan
  • East Timor
  • Hong Kong (but there are plans to integrate HK into the Chinese post code system)
  • Macau (also to be integrated with the Chinese post code system)
  • Iraq (but implementation work started in 2003)
  • Colombia

Some people have argued that ‘sure, isn’t Ireland too small to have a post code’. But coutries with post codes include :

  • Andorra
  • Christmas Island
  • The Cocos Islands
  • Luxembourg
  • Cuba
  • Nepal

Find out more about countries and their post codes HERE.

A proper post code system would represent an important piece of Information Infrastructure for Ireland. It would reduce barriers to entry in the mail-handling industry and would create new spin off industries dedicated to creating add-value products and services based around a post code system. That is why it is critical that the Minister and Government ensure that this is done PROPERLY and we avoid the errors of the e-Voting fiasco (also, unfortunately, something that happened under Minister Dempsey’s watch). The key lessons are that advice from industry groups should be sought and should be heeded. Short-term short cuts should be avoided at all costs. Wherever possible, economies of scale should be sought by leveraging the work which is on-going in other Government departments, state bodies and commercial environments to avoid reinventing a square wheel.

And An Post need to get ready to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat.

Daragh O’Brien.


  • Bueno says:

    The only possible use for postcodes in Ireland, and one which has been touched on in Dail debates but not discussed, is as a result of lobbying by direct mailing companies. Postcodes, because they break the country up into small pieces, make it easier to profile an area by social class, likely salary and education levels of its inhabitants etc. This is a huge industry in the UK and US, info regarding those living in each postcode district is gathered and sold to direct mail companies. There was a very interesting piece in the observer magazine about this a couple of weeks ago, in the context of credit card debt. In certain parts of england, the less well off, less educated, more likely to be interested in loans, are targetted with up to 15 pieces of direct mail advertising for credit cards every week. That ain’t good. Locations in ireland are small enough that town/area names work just as well I reckon…

  • celtictigger says:

    As someone with a bit of experience managing Irish name and address data, I can assure Bueno that town/area names don’t work just as well. There is a very high % of ‘reuse’ of townland names outside of urban areas even with the same county. Add to that misspelling or conflicts of spelling between a defined standard and the ‘local’ version and the ability of businesses or providers of other services to communities to accuratly identify clusters of addresses where people reside rapidly declines. One issue that affects this is that the density of population in one townland may not be the same as the density of population in another area and where you have non-unique addresses (ie no hall door numbers) some additional clustering of addresses is required.

    Direct mail issues were discused at length as part of dail debates and the media discussion on this proposal. The uses for post codes that didn’t get as wide an airing was the benefits to service providers in the Healthcare and related sectors. The national Breast Cancer screening programme (Breastcheck) has come out strongly in favour of this intiative. As an example of what is possible with a structured postal coding system that identifies clusters of addresses, in the UK an NHS trust area has developed an analysis tool that combines records of patient admissions for a variety of illnesses or medical issues (such as cancer, diabetes, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse) with mapping information and demographic information based off post codes which now enables them to prioritise areas for investment in preventative care and awareness campaigns, saving substantial amounts of money for use elsewhere in the NHS trust area.

    As for the sale of information about people in postal code areas.. in the US it can happen at an individual level but in Europe the information must be aggregated up to the level of the area rather than a specific person or address. Recent changes to the code of practice for Financial institutions in Ireland to reverse the trend of unsolicited credit should prevent the problem described – and in any event, it happens already in Ireland, just with a lower degree of precision as regards the area.

  • celtictigger says:

    And as regards the comment that the junk mail issue hasn’t been discussed, that is not correct. My blog article does touch on it and it was the subject of nearly a week of radio and press coverage just after the initative was announced. Indeed, my article was triggered by the level of focus on this perceived negative aspects of postcodes.(for the record – CWU working practices agreements with An Post only allow postmen to deliver up to 3 items of junk mail to an address in each delivery).

    And if you are targetted with junk mail you don’t want – simply send it back to the company with a request to remove you from the mailing list as is your right under Data Protection law.

    And, at least in densely populated urban areas, townlands do make it somewhat straightforward to profile based on salary etc. A common practice is to use house price trends as an indicator of net worth in an area.

  • Mark Burchill says:

    I work for Royal Mail in the UK, as Northern Ireland is all covered by the BT code (Delivery Office in Belfast), why not have the alpha-numerical code also for the rest of Ireland? Ex: D:Dublin
    TY:Tipperary Etc…

  • Gary Delaney says:

    Post Codes For Ireland (& Northern Ireland) – Available on Garmin SatNav’s from March 2008

    GPS Ireland has developed a Post Code System for Ireland which will be available on Garmin SatNav Systems from March 2008. Users will be able to get their Post Code from a web Mapping service at GPS Ireland’s sister website http://www.irishpostcodes.ie at no cost from the end of March. This Post Code system is currently being tested by GPS Ireland on Garmin Nuvi 760’s and it is working exceptionally well.

    This system is not aimed at delivering the mail, although it will support this as well;- it is designed to support the efficient navigation of vehicles on our roads. There were around 2.5 million vehicles registered in the Republic of Ireland last year alone and of these, approximately 20% were commercial vehicles, according to the Society of the Irish Motoring Industry’s (SIMI) statistical service. So in a country where the nature of destination or delivery addresses causes constant confusion and is constantly being changed or added to, it is clear from the pure volume of vehicles on our roads that they need much more urgent assistance in finding their destinations than locally based Post Men!!! There has been much talk about a Government backed Post Code System for more than 3 years now but this system lost its impetus due to its focus on delivering mail. An Post does not want or need a Post Code system, but the system we have developed can be used by them and any new Postal service after deregulation, if they wish.

    The GPS Ireland PON (Position Orientated Navigation) Code will immediately allow courier services, which currently decline private address pick ups, to double their business with the confidence needed to find their new customers. Not only this, but the system will also reduce normal time and mileage costs by up to 15% immediately by allowing them to find and route to their commercial customers more efficiently. The PON Codes used in conjunction with SatNav’s will support route optimisation;- heretofore expensive and difficult to use because of poorly defined addresses. Route optimisation is now available on Garmin Nuvi 760 SatNav’s.

    The need for a Post Code system in Ireland has been well debated and it is now universally recognised as an urgent requirement. Reference to a doctor service lost and trying to find a patient’s house in a rural area at 4 am on a wet winter’s morning and unable to knock at anyone’s door for directions, is enough to re-enforce the argument! Using a SatNav alone is not a solution to the problem as address spelling, non precise townland addresses and addresses that can be in either the Irish or English language can cause constant problems. This is a navigation problem which needs a navigation solution…i.e. a Post Code system which is based on a geographic reference.

    Recent Press reports (25th Feb 2008) indicate that the Government’s proposal for discussion in the Dáil later in 2008 is not geographically based and, therefore, will represent significant costs and lead times to implement. GPS Ireland’s system is geographically based and is already implemented for testing by Garmin for their Nuvi 700 series of SatNav’s.

    The benefits of the GPS Ireland System over any other existing or planned system are as follows:

    • Because the system is geographically based, users can get their PON Code from a free web mapping site without waiting for the Government to allocate it to them.
    • Because it is based on a version of the modern Irish Grid reference system, it will not require an expensive memory and processor speed demanding database to use it on SatNav’s or mobile phones with integrated GPS.
    • No SatNav manufacturer has as of yet implemented mapping owned by the Irish Government on their systems because of cost to purchase and cost to update. For the same reasons, it is therefore not guaranteed that they will be able to afford to purchase rights to a Government backed Post Code system either. Any system which requires a database containing every property in the country would be expensive to use and expensive to keep up to date. Then we would have an expensive Post Code system that no vehicle could have the benefit of using. In that case, approximately 0.5 million commercial vehicles who register in Ireland annually would remain unable to take the benefit of our Government implemented Post Code system! In the end it may only be suitable for Postal Sorting offices and direct marketing companies with large computers and big database maintenance budgets!
    • The GPS Ireland system does not require a database, so no fear of it being out of date or expensive to maintain.
    • Under the GPS Ireland system, there will be no special treatment for any property in any location i.e. no “D4??? related systems – just a derivative of Irish grid which exists already underneath every millimetre of ground in both the Republic and Northern Ireland. Our system does however, support the continued use of existing systems in combination; if the user requires.
    • Unlike the Government system mentioned in the press recently, which seemed to suggest that there were only 999 properties in Dublin 4 (D04 123) and all of the county of Galway (GAL 123), the GPS Ireland system has no limit to the number of property Post Codes and would never have to be redesigned to accommodate new properties.
    • No one would have to wait for the Government to allocate them a Post Code, it exists already, just get it from a free web map service.
    • GPS Ireland’s system would not be limited to permanent structures either; even temporary structures like construction site offices, new houses and mobile homes can have an immediate post code. Every Trade Stand at the National Ploughing Championships, the largest outdoor trade show in Europe, can have a Post Code which would be impossible under the suggested Government system.
    • Even “non-structures??? such as delivery entrances, escape routes, junctions, road works, accident sites, Garda Ramps, Speed Cameras, bus stops, taxi ranks, car parks, SOS phones, sport & other event sites, circus tents, mobile libraries, mobile breast check and blood donor clinics, cruise liners in port, race start/finishes etc;- all of these too can have a Post Code and none would have to wait to get it!….. just go to http://www.irishpostcodes.ie, when live at the end of March, and get it for free by clicking on a map or entering coordinates from a SatNav or GPS!
    • With an increasing number of vehicles, both private and commercial crossing the border every day, why have two separate Post Code Systems on the Island? Both parts of the Island use the same grid reference system so both can easily use the new GPS Ireland Post Code system straight away – vehicles travelling north or south would not have to switch between two different addressing systems.
    • GPS Ireland’s system allows for individual floors in the same building to have a unique code – easier for despatch riders and delivery services.

    The GPS Ireland system is a 7 character alphanumeric code which is easily remembered. The PON Code for GPS Ireland’s offices in Crosshaven, Cork is
    “WVR-J3DQ??? which, when punched into a SatNav system, will take the user to our car park! Other elements are optionally added to assist visual identification but are not absolutely required. A detailed explanation of the code is contained here>

    We already have this system working on a Garmin Nuvi 760 SatNav shown in the images below….

    Enter the 7 character code – view the location on the map to confirm no major errors have been made and select “Go??? to be voice guided to it!!!

    The GPS Ireland PON Code system is suitable for:
    • Courier Services and Despatch Riders
    • Food Delivery Services
    • Mail Collection & Delivery Services
    • Construction Vehicles
    • Car Hire Companies
    • Shop Delivery Services
    • Home Furnishing & White Good Delivery Services
    • Service Companies
    • Street Furniture & Road Sign Maintenance Companies
    • Mobile Sales Forces
    • Hackney, Taxi & Transport Companies
    • Emergency Services;- Fire, Ambulance, Doctor, Police
    • Civil Defence, Order Of Malta, St John’s Ambulance etc
    • Utility maintenance field crews
    • Buy & Sell Services
    • Private Drivers commuting or finding weddings, functions and funerals.
    • Tourists and Tourist services
    • The Hospitality Industry; Hotels, Guest Houses, Attractions
    • Banks, ATM’s Pharmacies, Petrol Stations, Community services
    • Billboard Advertising Companies

    There is no-one living in or visiting Ireland who will not benefit from this new system.

    It is even suitable for entry into web address forms on Yahoo, Google, MSN, E-Bay etc who ask for a Post Code;- solving the well known problem persons living in Ireland have when purchasing goods over the web.

    Because of its nature the GPS Ireland PON Code can be easily transmitted over a mobile phone by voice or text message and by any other communications system where clarity and brevity is required. For this reason field repair crews in the Electricity, Gas, Water and Telecoms industries will find it exceptionally valuable. And the code itself defines a position to within 5 meters of its equivalent Irish Transverse Mercator Grid coordinates.

    Some examples of the PON Codes for notable sites around Ireland are as follows:

    Location PON Code MapQuest Web Map
    Athlone Institute Of Technology Main Campus L7K TQ91 Athlone Institute Of Technology Main Campus

    Ballyhack Castle QSA X7Q2 Ballyhack Castle

    Bunratty Castle PMR R42H Bunratty Castle

    Civil Defence Training School Roscrea QBX D1WT Civil Defence Training School Roscrea

    Cobh Heritage Centre WVS G5N0 Cobh Heritage Centre

    Derry Airport CPE PCP3 Derry Airport

    Dublin Airport MCM MAJE Dublin Airport

    Entrance To Lough Key Forest Park FV7 X4Q9 Entrance To Lough Key Forest Park

    Eyre Square Galway KGF XJH1 Eyre Square Galway

    Government Buildings Dublin MCH FWK1 Government Buildings Dublin

    GPO Dublin MCJ 955P GPO Dublin

    K Club LXG PR53 K Club

    Kilkenny Tourist Office QNQ Z2JQ Kilkenny Tourist Office

    Muckross Park Hotel Kilarney TYW GSZA Muckross Park Hotel Kilarney

    National Maritime College Cork WVR ESH3 National Maritime College Cork

    Pairc Esler Newry H9F 6FTE Pairc Esler Newry

    Pier Road Inniscrone FGG JXND Pier Road Inniscrone

    Rathmullan Pier Lough Swilly CGG W7R6 Rathmullan Pier Lough Swilly

    RDS Dublin MDH 3HWT RDS Dublin

    Rock Of Cashel Q8K HS8K Rock Of Cashel

    Royal Cork Yacht Club Crosshaven WVR E652 Royal Cork Yacht Club Crosshaven

    The Spire Dublin MCJ 86XF The Spire Dublin

    Waterford County Council Dungarvan XFX RSQ7 Waterford County Council Dungarvan

    Wexford County Council R6E CH9W Wexford County Council

    The GPS Ireland PON (Post) Code system will be available for test on Garmin Nuvi 760 SatNav’s by commercial organisation over the next few weeks (March 2008) and at the same time a free web map service to capture Post Codes at no cost will also go live. This will be available at http://www.irishpostcodes.ie

    If you require any further information or to set up a trial on a Garmin Nuvi SatNav, please E-mail [email protected] or Tel: 021 4832990

  • Gary Delaney says:

    Anyone will be able to get their PON Code )Post Code for an address or Lat/long in Ireland at http://www.irishpostcodes.ie from 16th June 2008. These PON codes have been tested on Garmin SatNav’s since March 2008. If you want to try them on Garmin Nuvi 7xx series contact us at [email protected]

  • Interesting… a commercial operator launching a postcode system before the Government has completed the process for defining and implementing a standard (and have been very quiet on the issue) – or does Gary know something that the rest of us don’t?

    How might this solution support important functions (for businesses) such as address validation/verification? It seems to be focussed on satnav requirements but there are other uses of location codes and other address data in business proceses.

  • Pat Donnelly says:

    Gary, my head is still spinning from the circular logic of your “invention”. Let’s see, if I go to google maps and find my latitude/longitude I can convert this to a PON which I can then type into a SatNav which will convert it back to a latitude/longitude.

    If you don’t know what a postcode system is, please don’t claim to have invented one for Ireland. All you have is a shorthand for writing Lat/Longs, it contributes absolutely nothing.

  • Mike Jackson says:

    I read recently on net about a new Specific Lookup Location Identification Code (SLLIC) that has been developed and patented. Apparently it’s being trialled for use in Ireland. The SLLIC code designed for Ireland has the ability to pinpoint a location more accurately than a traditional postcode – roughly 12 square feet in size. It has a lookup database with all of the houses and offices already on it, and the SLLIC code attached to each. It can be used for address verification/validation and has been designed for a variety of uses and not just navigation.

    From the article on net it says the SLLIC code is designed based on both using geo-cordinates and a look-up database of addresses. It can also be used for assigning codes to places or elements that do not have a formal address e.g. a piece of land, an event, an accident. The code is flexible so that it can accommodate up to 8 characters depending on what needs to be identified e.g. WG6 8T3D-D. Houses and office buildings will use a 7 character code. Larger areas for data analysis, planning, etc, will use 5-6 characters of the codes e.g. WG6 8T.

    The SLLIC code avoids the creation of accidental words being created by certain codes such as P1S51NG, P1G or K0X which apparently occur in a location code for Garmin satnavs being proposed for use in Ireland.

    Because the SLLIC codes are all created from Day One of implementation, when new buildings/houses are created in an area, the SLLIC codes are already known for the territory of construction, and can simply be ‘switched-on’ for use by the new occupants.

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