Postal addresses in the Republic of Ireland

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A "Postal Address" is a delivery address as defined by Irish Standard - I.S. EN 14142-1:2011 (Postal services. Address databases), as operated by the Universal Service Provider, An Post. Their addressing guides comply with the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) (the United Nations body responsible for promoting standards in the postal industry across the World) addressing guidelines[1]

In Ireland, 35% of Irish premises (over 600,000) have non-unique addresses due to an absence of house numbers or names.[2] In smaller towns and many townlands, this requires postal workers to remember which family names correspond to which house.

Ireland was the last country in the OECD to create a postcode system, which is called Eircode. In July 2015 all 2.2 million residential and business addresses in Ireland received a letter notifying them of the new Eircode for their address.[3] Unlike other countries, where postcodes define clusters or groups of addresses, an Eircode identifies an individual address and shows exactly where it is located.

The system was criticised at its launch, and it was not available on Google Maps until September 2016.[4]

Responsibility for the current postal delivery system rests with An Post, a semi-state body; however, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) retains the right to regulate addresses if they wish so.

General Post Office, Dublin Eircode: D01 F5P2

Pre-Eircode postal districts[edit]

Dublin[edit]

Post-1961 Dublin street sign displaying the street name in Irish and English, with postal district number

In Dublin city and its suburbs, a system of postal districts was introduced in 1917 by the Royal Mail with the prefix "D", and retained after Ireland became an independent country, without the prefix. However the use of district numbers by the public did not begin until 1961,[5] when street signs displayed postal district numbers. Prior to that time, street signs only displayed the street name in Irish and English.

The Dublin system had 22 districts — Dublin 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6W, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24. These were incorporated into the routing keys used by the Eircode national postcode system as D01, D02, D12, D22, etc.

Cork[edit]

Caroline St is in Cork 1;
Clanrickarde Estate is in Cork 2.

The city of Cork had four numbered postal districts, but these were used internally by An Post and rarely on mail.[6] Cork 1 covered the city centre and large parts of the surrounding city, e.g.: the "Patrick Street" (Sráid Phádraig) sign displays the digit '1'. Cork 2, administered from the Ballinlough sorting office, covered the south-east, Cork 3 (from Gurranabraher) covered the north-west while Cork 4 (from Togher sorting office) covered the south-west. The numbers are not used in the Eircode system,[6] with routing keys in the Cork area instead beginning with the letter 'T'.[3]

Eircode[edit]

The launch of a national postcode system (Eircode, Irish equivalent for eircode: éirchód[7]) in Ireland began on 28 April 2014.[8] The system incorporates the existing numbered Dublin postal districts as part of the routing key.[9][10]Eircode made Ireland the first country in the world to have a unique postcode for each address.[11]

The codes, known as "Eircodes", consist of seven characters. The first three characters, called the "Routing Key", are designed to benefit the postal and logistics industry and contain on average 15,000 addresses each. The Routing Key is used to help sort mail, it is the principal Post Town of the address as defined by An Post. The second part of the Eircode, called the "Unique Identifier," consists of four characters drawn from a carefully selected set of randomised letters and numbers that identify each individual address. They are stored in a central database, Eircode Address Database (ECAD), along with other useful geographic information including addresses, variants/aliases, and geo-coordinates of each address point.[12] Sample product data and pricing details were issued to businesses in March 2015. The ECAD is now available to licence by end-users and value-added resellers called Eircode Providers [13]

An example of a typical Irish address is that of the Lord Mayor of Dublin:[14] The Eircode is added on as an extra line to the existing address and postal district code which remains unchanged.[15]

Dublin City Council,
Lord Mayor’s Office,
Mansion House,
Dawson Street,
Dublin 2.
D02 AF30

Unlike other postcode systems, Eircode is not used for PO Box addresses.[16]

Background[edit]

An Post did not introduce automated sorting machines until the 1990s. By then, the optical character recognition (OCR) systems were advanced enough to read whole addresses, as opposed to just postcodes, thereby allowing An Post to skip a generation. Consequently, mail to addresses in the rest of the state did not require any digits after the address.

While An Post stated that the addressing system and sorting technologies make postcodes for mail delivery unnecessary, it was suggested that other services (such as advertising mail providers) would benefit from a national system.[17](subscription required)[18] After considerable delays, it was announced on 8 October 2013 that codes would be introduced by Spring 2015.[19] A ten-year contract to introduce and implement the postcode system was awarded to Capita Business Support Services Ireland in January 2014 with support from BearingPoint and Autoaddress.[20][21]

Introduction of a national system[edit]

In 2005 it became the policy of the Government of Ireland to introduce a national scheme of postcodes.

In May 2005, Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Communications announced that postcodes would be introduced by 1 January 2008,[22] His successor as minister, Eamon Ryan, announced in August 2007 that he was delaying the project pending additional consultation and investigation into the need.[23] On 24 February 2008, The Sunday Times reported that Ryan was finalising the system and hoped to bring the plans to cabinet before the summer of 2008, for introduction in 2009.[24]

An Post was quoted as saying "it would be at the heart of the introduction"[24] and the report of PA Consultants indicated that An Post should be paid over €27 million for its involvement.[25]

Following further delays, in September 2009 the cabinet agreed to go ahead with the project. It was to be put out to tender with the end of 2011 given as the date by which postcodes should be assigned.[26] In January 2010 Minister Ryan stated in the Dáil that the exact nature of the code would not be decided until the implementation tender process had been completed but that a Location Code with GPS coordinates should be part of the system implemented.[27] On 29 January 2010, a tender to select consultants to assist the Minister for Communications in deciding on the way forward was issued.[28]

The project was again delayed, but in December 2010 the government agreed to seek tenders for procurement of national postcodes, with an estimated cost of €15 million, with the contract to be awarded in the summer of 2011 with the codes introduced by the end of that year.[29]

On 29 June 2013 The Irish Times reported that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, was to bring details to the cabinet meeting of 2 July. According to the report, a postcode operator was to be appointed by September 2013 and every householder and business was to be issued a code by July 2014.[19] Following a cabinet meeting on 8 October 2013 Rabbitte announced that a unique seven-character code would be assigned to every postal delivery point ("letterbox") in the state. A consortium led by Capita Ireland was awarded the tender to develop, implement and operate the system, costing €27 million.[10]

Language concerns[edit]

Conradh na Gaeilge, an organisation advocating use of the Irish language, expressed concern over postcodes or postal abbreviations being based solely on English language place names, e.g. D for Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath in Irish) or WX for Wexford (Loch Garman in Irish) as is the case with vehicle registration plates. It had advocated that postcodes should either consist solely of numbers, as in many other bilingual or multilingual countries, or be based on Irish language names instead.[30] These concerns were addressed upon the introduction of Eircode. Apart from routing keys corresponding to the previous Dublin postal districts, the initial letters of Eircode routing keys bear no relation to either the English language or Irish language place names within these areas.[3][31]

Preparation for a postcode[edit]

In the light of the liberalisation of postal services and the end of An Post's monopoly, ComReg, the Communications Regulator in Ireland, began considering the introduction of postcodes. A Postcode Working Group met in early 2005 and produced a report[32] recommending the implementation of a postcode system.

On 23 May 2005, the Minister for Communications, Noel Dempsey, in a government press release[33] announced that postcodes would be introduced in Ireland by 1 January 2008. In November 2005, the National Statistics Board issued a report welcoming the decision[34] and making recommendations as to its implementation. They supported a point-based postcode system that used grid reference/GPS technology to provide a relatively clear-cut, low cost approach to allocating a postcode to an address. This avoids trying to group households together into small area clusters. It was later announced that the postcodes would include the one- or two-character county codes currently used in vehicle registration plates, making them alphanumeric,[35] with the existing Dublin system retained.[36]

In June 2007, a brief[37] to the new Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan, stated that a memo was submitted by the Department of Communications to the Irish Government in May 2007 seeking approval for the implementation of the postcode system. It also stated that the decision arising from this submission was that the Minister would revert to Government following further analysis to quantify the benefits, which would then be followed by a public consultation process. In August 2007, the Minister[38] reportedly postponed the implementation of the system "indefinitely" pending additional public consultation.

On 18 October 2007 Eamon Ryan announced at ComReg's "Postal Services in the 21st Century" conference that "[Post] codes should be introduced as a matter of priority". The introduction was stated to be subject to cabinet approval.[39] On 25 February 2008 the Irish Independent reported that the proposals were being presented to the Cabinet with a view to full national implementation before summer 2008. It stated that Eamon Ryan was finalising the proposals, which include a 6 character format postcode, giving a sample of "D04 123" where "D04" corresponded to the current Dublin 4 postal region and "123" was a specific group of buildings.[40] similar to British and Dutch postcodes, which cover groups of buildings, rather than simply suburbs or towns.

On 7 December 2008, the Sunday Business Post reported results of an independent report by PA Consulting for the Department indicating that benefits of up to €22m could be achieved for public bodies through the introduction of a postcode. The PA report indicated that postcodes had greater uses beyond the delivery of mail or simple navigation services, citing the "need for efficient database based on postcodes reducing inefficient service delivery and infrastructural planning". It said that Postcodes are considered critical for "efficient spatial planning and aiding health research, education, housing social care and employment integration". Increased efficiencies for businesses would emerge; in particular, the insurance sector stated that "it would result in annual savings of around €40 million by improving their risk management assessments."[41]

The article concluded saying that annual maintenance costs for a postcode management licence holder which would include maintaining the necessary database of buildings are estimated "at about €2.5 million" but the minister was reported as saying that "ongoing costs would be covered by income generated by the eventual licence holder".[41]

In September 2009, Minister Ryan said that an alphanumeric system would be introduced in 2011 at a fraction of the previous estimate of €50 million.[42] This was reiterated a month later in a Seanad debate,[43] in spite of claims to the contrary by the Communication Workers Union.[44] Liz McManus, opposition spokeswoman for communications in the Labour Party, called for the plan to be revoked due to job losses in An Post, the projected costs and fears of junk mail.[45]

In Dail question time in January 2010, Simon Coveney challenged Minister Ryan's apparent rejection of a GPS based postcode system and argued that a system that pinpointed 20–50 houses would be only a slight improvement. Ryan disputed Coveney's remarks, saying that he fully supported a postcode system that had geo-coordinates at its centre, and that the system chosen would depend on the tenders received.[46]

The tender process to select consultants was announced on 1 February 2010, with a view to having the postcode system operational by the end of 2011.[47]

In April 2010, the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources published a report criticising some of the proposals listed above, recommending instead that any postcode implemented must be capable of supporting "developing technologies such as internet mapping, google maps and iPhones", applying a unique identifier to each property. It suggests that the previously mentioned D04 123 model would not satisfy this requirement and may, in fact, make matters worse.[48][49][50]

On 15 April 2010 the tendering process to select a consultant to advise the Minister on the implementation of a postcode was cancelled,[51] due to a serious but unspecified technical error in the tendering documents.[52]

Legislation[edit]

Legislation to "provide for the establishment, operation and maintenance of a system of postcodes" – the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 – was introduced in November 2010.[53] The bill was enacted in August of the following year, with Part 3 of the act dealing with the establishment of a National Postcode System.[54] Postcodes are defined in the legislation as "a code consisting of numbers or other characters or both numbers and other characters that identifies the locality of an address and, where appropriate, the geographic location of an address"[55]. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is empowered to award a contract for "the development, implementation and maintenance of a system... for the allocation, dissemination and management of postcodes for the purposes of, or relating to, the provision of postal services and the use of the national postcode system by other persons for such other purposes as the Minister considers appropriate".[56]

On 29 June 2013 The Irish Times reported that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, was to bring details to the cabinet meeting of 2 July. According to the report, a postcode operator was to be appointed by September 2013 and every householder and business was to be issued a code by July 2014.[19] Following a cabinet meeting on 8 October 2013 Rabbitte announced that a unique seven-digit would be assigned to every post-box in the state. A consortium led by Capita Ireland had been awarded the tender to develop, implement and operate the system, at a cost of €27 million over a ten-year period.[10] On the roll-out day in July 2015, householders and businesses were able to look them up online in advance of receiving a posted notification. The Eircode website received over 1.5 million hits in the first 48 hours.

Each code consists of seven letters and/or digits, in the format A65 B2CD. The first three characters represent one of 139 geographical district or post-towns. The existing Dublin postal districts form the first three characters (the "Routing Key") in the system.[9][10]

List of Eircode routing keys[edit]

The following is a list of Eircode routing keys:[57]

Issues with Eircode[edit]

An Post's position[edit]

An Post had previously claimed that a nationwide public postcode system was unnecessary, stating that it was "a 1960s solution to a 21st century problem",[58] that it would be expensive, and that its existing system was superior.[59] They later became actively involved in implementing the new Eircode system, with their CEO saying they were investing in their four main sorting centres to adopt the new postcode system at a cost of €1m, according to an Irish Times report stating "An Post chief executive Donal Connell said it would work "very closely" with Eircode, the new company set up by Capita to manage the codes, in implementing the national infrastructure. "It will certainly help with the efficiency of our distribution'. Mr Connell said €1 million from An Post’s capital investment fund would be spent to install new software in its four national sorting centres.[60][61][62] Courier services and advertising mail companies complained that the absence of such a system put Ireland at a disadvantage compared with other European countries.[59]

An Post did use a system of three-digit sort codes, similar to the Mailsort system used by Royal Mail in the United Kingdom, for pre-sorting mail in bulk.[63] There were two levels, Presort 152, which had 152 codes for large volumes of mail,[64] and Presort 61, which had 61 codes for smaller volumes.[65]

It corresponded to Dublin postal districts, e.g.; Dublin 1 is 101, etc., except for Dublin 10 and Dublin 20, both of which had the same code 110, and Dublin 6W, which was 126. Cork had codes for four each of the delivery offices, Ballinlough (901), North City (902), Little Island (903), and South City (903).

Other issues[edit]

The Eircode system has been criticised for using an unsequenced code limited to postal addresses on the grounds that this undermines the system's utility.[66][67] The cost, procurement methods used, slow rollout and implementation of the system (originally proposed in 2003) were criticised, including in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General.[68][69]

GeoDirectory[edit]

Established by the state owned post office, An Post, and the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the Geodirectory, is a database of every building in the Republic of Ireland.[70] The database contains every Postal Address in Ireland, a corresponding Geographic Address, the District Electoral Division (a grouping of addresses useful for analysis and defining catchment areas of services), a system address reference (not in use by individuals), and the location coordinates. It is available for commercial use and has been used by several commercial companies for various geo-location and data cleansing purposes.[71] It is the source of all addresses in the Eircode ECAD database. It is also used by Google Maps in Ireland to identify and search for building names on mapping.[72] For example, one of the entries in its sample database[73] is Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, building ID 10003105 (at ITM 648555.822, 698833.088).

Alternative location codes[edit]

Several coding systems emerged in Ireland in the years before the introduction of Eircode. All of these systems took the approach of coding geographic locations rather than postal addresses. None of the systems are compatible with the sorting requirements of An Post, as they do not encode a Post Town into their code. The first three characters of an Eircode relate to a Post Town that An Post have defined to facilitate manual sortation of post. As they only encode a location, they are not capable of providing a unique code for every address, for example multiple apartments in the same building would have the same code.

GO Code[edit]

The GO ("gee-o") Code was developed by Go Code Ltd. in Dublin, 2007. It is a multi-character alphanumeric geographic (rather than postal routing) code calculated from latitude and longitude that varies final accuracy according to the number of characters used. The Ireland version uses 7-characters giving an accuracy of 5 metres squared.[74] The equivalent code for the Midland Regional Hospital, as above, is KHG RT76. It was adopted by TomTom for use on its various satnav models in 2010 and GO Code was the first to develop a location code app on the iPhone App Store. The code design allows for greater or lesser granularity with the addition or subtraction of characters from the end of the code. The company has also been developing Go Code designs for use in other countries, including India, (9 characters) where it is being piloted within the slums in Kolkata, to help bring essential health, education and social services to the people living there.[75] The GO Code project first brought together some of the companies that would go on to produce the winning Eircode tender, including Capita, BearingPoint, and Autoaddress.

Loc8 Code[edit]

The Loc8 Code was developed by GPS Ireland Ltd. and field tested with Garmin in 2008. It is now[when?] owned and managed by Loc8 Code Ltd. in Cork. Like GO Code, it is a geocoding, rather than address identification system: an 8 character alphanumeric code calculated from latitude and longitude to an accuracy of within 6 metres in any direction. It includes a checksum character.[76][77][78][79] The equivalent code for the Midland Regional Hospital is RFT-41-M46 [1].

Loc8 codes cannot be computed directly to or from a geographical location without the assistance of software produced by Loc8 Code. The licence conditions for the code prohibit any third party from reverse-engineering the algorithm.[80]

The Loc8 code consists of at least three discrete parts, each of which imparts increasing accuracy of the location. Taking the previous example, if the code is truncate to its first three characters ("RFT") an area of approximately 3.5 km square is defined; the addition of the last three characters ("RFT-M46") narrows this down to an area of 120 square metres and provides a checksum digit ("6").[81]

Some basic efforts are made to avoid Loc8 Codes being accidentally parsed as Royal Mail postcodes Post Codes, particularly those for addresses in Northern Ireland. The coding also avoids optically-similar characters (e.g., "I" and "1") and "word-like" codes[82].

OpenPostcode[edit]

The OpenPostcode is an opensource project under development since 2011. It is a variable-length alphanumeric location code calculated using a free algorithm from latitude and longitude to an accuracy of within an average of 3 metres at 7 characters. An optional checksum is added. It is currently implemented in proprietary utility company systems. A proof of concept website[83] and Android app[84] are available.[85] An equivalent code for the Midland Regional Hospital is RK3P5 (the exact coordinates as listed in the GeoDirectory are RK3P5J5J).

Despite its name, OpenPostcode does not identify a postal address, or provide any information to aid routing of deliveries. It codes only a geographical location, and thus provides no ability to issue different codes to addresses within the same building, for example.

OP grid[edit]

The Irish implementation of OpenPostcodes uses a grid extending from 55.5°N 10.75°W at its north west corner, and covering the whole of the island of Ireland and outlying islands such as Rathlin Island. The south east corner of the grid is just south of Skomer, west Wales, at 51.3°N 5.35°W.

Redesigned in 2015, version 4, as a spiral of its 25 characters starting with 2 in the bottom left and continuing clockwise to X in the middle, the grid has the following format:

6 7 8 9 B
5 N P Q C
4 M X R D
3 L W T F
2 K J H G

Each grid square is subsequently divided into a grid of the same format, and likewise for the resulting squares, until the required precision has been attained. For each subdivision, the resulting number or letter is added onto the geocode. X will always be the centre. The letter V has been removed and replaced with B, which is now uppermost top-right so as to place any B codes firmly within the UK postcode area BT and avoid[citation needed] any confusion.

The algorithm works with any combination of 25 characters, or more, as required. This specific grid is optimised for Ireland.

According to OpenPostcode.org Ireland,[83] the expected precision is as follows:

Code length Example code Precision Suggested use
8 D4TGHK5C 1.25 m x 0.9 m Identifying infrastructure such as utility poles
7 D4TGHK5 5.98 m x 4.6 m Building entrances
6 D4TGHK 30 m x 23 m Small sites
5 D4TGH 150m x 115 m Larger sites and campuses
4 D4TG 0.75 km x 0.57 km Neighbourhoods
3 D4T 3.7 km x 2.9 km Collection of statistics on small areas
2 D4 19 km x 14 km Identifying regions
1 D 93 km x 72 km Collection of statistics on larger areas of the country

A checksum can be generated for codes of any length. Apart from helping to confirm that Irish OpenPostcodes have been entered accurately without errors such as juxtaposed letters and digits, it can be used to determine whether the code relates to Ireland, or to Hong Kong or Yemen, places for which similar geocodes are based, where the location-based checksum result will differ.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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