Adjournment Matters - Post Codes

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 215 No. 7

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Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Is breá an rud é a fheiceáil arís sa Teach seo. Tá an cheist atáá hardú agam inniu ag dul siar roinnt mhaith blianta, ach nílim ag cur an lochta faoi sin ar an Aire. Bhí caint ar an gceist seo i bhfad sula dtáinig sé isteach i rialtas. Baineann an cheist leis na cóid poist atá beartaithe don tír seo.

The post code scenario in this State is a long-standing issue. A review has been undertaken and we have had promises since 2006 of a new post code system. I am seeking an update on the current position. What type of format in terms of a postal system is being considered and what headway has been made thus far by the post code project board? From a technology perspective, much has changed since it was first mooted that we might move to a letters and numbers system similar to that used in the UK. Have changes in technology, such as Sat Nav and GPS, been taken into account by the post code project board?

One of the issues traditionally raised in this context is whether logainmneacha, placenames, will be recognised in whatever coding system will be used so that due deference will be given to the Irish language version of a placename in the system. Is the Minister happy that the [419]tender process for this new system has been open, transparent and completely above board? I have received correspondence to the effect that former members of the post code project board are involved in some of the organisations named as preferred suppliers. I would welcome the Minister’s views on that issue. Obviously, questions arise if people who were members of the board laying down the criteria are now involved in organisations who are the preferred suppliers of the new post code system.

Tá fáilte roimh an Aire agus tá súil agam go mbeidh freagraí dearfacha aige. Seo rud atá ag teastáil go géar, go háirithe sna ceantair tuaithe. Tá sé fíor thábhachtach go mbeidh pé cód nó córas atá i bhfeidhm ábalta tithe a aimsiú díreach, mar shampla mar tá cúréir ag teacht go Carna, An Cheathrú Rua nó Leitir Mealláin, leis an beart nó litir atáá seachadadh a thabhairt go dtí na daoine cóir.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Ar an gcéad dul síos, let me thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for his welcome and for raising this issue which I accept is an important one. Since taking up this portfolio, I have devoted more than the average amount of time to the postal sector for two reasons, the first of which is the deliberation in this House and the Dáil of the Postal Services Act 2011. The Act provided for the full liberalisation of the postal sector in Ireland and included provisions in Part III, section 66, to establish a national postcode system. It was the first Bill I put through in this area.

The second reason for my preoccupation is the growing challenge to An Post posed by the scale of electronic substitution in the letters business. The scale of the challenge is seen most clearly by the fact that mail volumes nationally have fallen by more than 20% in the past three years, which is a staggering figure by any measure. Electronic substitution is, if anything, accelerating today given near ubiquitous broadband provision. Colleagues in this House and in the other one complain, which they are entitled to do, from time to time about the quality of broadband in the country generally or the fact that in some parts of the country it is still fairly basic. The sheer scale of electronic substitution is remarkable and it has resulted in accelerating the rate of decline of the core business of An Post.

The issue of postcodes, which Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised, has, beyond making provision for the necessary statutory provision through legislation, not featured as highly on my agenda. This is also due to the fact that a procurement process for a national system was already under way on my taking up office as Minister. The continuation of that process, which is being managed on a ring-fenced basis by my Department, necessarily constrains the amount of information I can share with the Senator at this time but I assure him that I believe it is entirely above board and beyond question. I am not suggesting this is where the Senator got his information but I am aware there is a particular company or person who vehemently disputes the way it is being done and letters have been written and contact has been made with politicians in both Houses. However, the ring-fenced process being conducted is absolutely above board and I will have to stand over that in time.

As Senators may be aware, Ireland is the only country in the EU and the OECD which does not have a national postcode. In July 2009, the then Government approved the launch of a procurement process for a national postcode based on the report of the national postcode project board in 2006. In 2010, the Department established a postcode steering group and appointed PA Consulting to assist it with project management and implementation. Over a year ago, the Department undertook a wide-ranging consultation on the implementation of a national postcode system. More than 60 different interested parties were met as part of that process. The Department received a unanimous welcome for the proposed postcode system and was offered detailed views on issues relating to implementation. These included matters relating to the technical specification, dissemination and commercialisation of the system.

[420]There is continued strong support in the commercial sector, in particular, for the development of a national postcode model to drive competitiveness in the broader economy and, in turn, contribute to a better jobs environment. Government Departments and agencies also see the benefit of postcodes in helping them deliver services to the public especially in challenging economic times.

The procurement process for postcodes began on 17 January 2011 with the publication of a pre-qualification questionnaire on for the appointment of a postcode management licence holder. Since then intensive work has taken place on what is an extremely complex national project with many different inter-dependent aspects to it. A series of different phases of the process were set out in the indicative timetable for the procurement and the work so far has followed that outline.

The competitive dialogue session of the timetable is, by its nature, less time bound as the purpose of the dialogue is to reach an understanding which will enable the final tender to be capable of achieving its objective. This competitive dialogue phase has been ongoing for some months. In the event of the process reaching the final tender stage, the design parameters of the postcode will be specified. As that stage has not been reached, I am not in a position to inform the Senator on the exact type of postcode which will be sought by way of tender. I should point out that the final decision to proceed with the implementation of a national postcode will be one for Government and will be based on appropriate financial, technical and operational considerations. This decision will be made later this year.

In respect of the matter raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh about the Irish language and so on, all during the early consultative stage, care was taken to consult, quite extensively, the Irish language community on different aspects. The views expressed in regard to the Irish language will be fully taken into account in rolling out the postcode, if that is the decision made by the Government.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Information on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Zoom on Trevor Ó Clochartaigh  Fáiltím roimh an soiléiriú sin, go háirithe an soiléiriú go bhfuil an tAire sásta go bhfuil an próiseas ar fad trédhearcach agus oscailte agus nach bhfuil aon rud as bealach. I welcome the fact the Minister has said he is happy with the process, that it is completely open and transparent and that there is nothing to worry about there. I appreciate he cannot go into too much detail about the technicality of the system but is part of the specification that it will be able to deliver to every household and house in the State, no matter which boreen or apartment complex one lives in, as one would be able to do with a GPS navigation system? One can find a house very accurately with a GPS navigation system and it is important that would be in place. Is that part of the tender process?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That is the specification because anything else would be unconscionable. It shows how complex and demanding it will be because the notion of some sections of the country, merely because they may be more remote or isolated areas, not being beneficiaries of the system could not be countenanced.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 May 2012.

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