The Eircode mess – a view from the USA.

So, Eircode lumbers on, another debacle in waiting, predictable and avoidable. We dont do evidence based policy making. I have written on Eircode before, here, here, here  and here.  But, im a professor of finance, so what do I know…Well, lets hear from someone who is a professional postdode person (what a wonderful world we live in that such jobs exist) and has no skin in this game. A person, from out of town, with slides, so definitionally an expert.

The Global Address Data Association is a body, non profit and non aligned, which lobbies and works on postcides, addresses and so forth. They are the pro’s from dover when it comes to postcodes and so forth.

Yesterday they launched a report on Eircode. The full report is available here, and it makes for grim reading. Some highlights

Suppose your house’s code is A65 F4E2. The first 3 character bit is a “routing key”; it is meant to generally identify a geographic area, one of delivery/sortation functionality for the Post. It is apparently not as strictly a defined area as an American “Zipcode”, a system which is quite “determinate” geographically and functionally. Rather, when a new building is constructed, An Post will decide what “key” it belongs to depending on the shape of their postal delivery routes in that area. And with that decision, An Post exits the story of this “postcode”.

Houses bearing this key are delivered from the same delivery office or sortation center from which the postmen begin their “walks”. However, the official website says, “The routing key will be used to help sort mail, however it is not directly linked to counties, towns and geographic features.” How very puzzling. There are some 137 of these routing keys, each of which stretches across 200 sq miles on average. That would certainly seem to be pretty clearly postal, and geographic, but it is not. One of the keys, the Limerick area, contains an enormous number of houses – 86,000. By any stretch, that’s a couple of sort centers.

So its neither one thing nor t’other…

every apartment/living unit will have a “unique identifier”.On one hand, this latter point is a very nice advance. No need to write “Apt. 74” when you send your cousin a birthday card. B83 G6M4 specifically refers to his 7th floor flat. On the other hand, this is something no signage anywhere will disclose, unless the building management decides to “translate” the apartment designations. This would look something like “B83 G6M4 = Apt. 74, 7th floor

So, we are not special, just different.

So, Ireland ends up with something that can’t really be called a postcode system, except in part for the first bit. The second bit appears to be a system for randomscattering of unrelated letters and numbers, which aren’t even posted on buildings. Sadly, it appears there were no address experts involved in the final design process. One is reminded of the old adage about a camel being a horse designed by a legislative committee

Nailed…Who needs experts anyhow? We see the mess that was made when the Department of Finance decided that they could manage a modern economy whithout, oh, economists or tax experts.

Here is a zinger…

aside from the first part of the code, it appears An Post personnel won’t use the new codes for delivery, or for anything else, for that matter. They’ll still rely on “local knowledge”. In fact, the talk in Dublin was that the postal union made it very clear that labor would not support any system that they perceived would threaten their employment numbers, and sequential numbering, publically displayed in a coherently named system of street signage was perceived to be such a threat.

So, the postcode wont be used by the post office, and the postal workers wouldn’t have it. What madness is this?

if this is the system, I know that I would want one on the house of my 86-year old aunt who insists on living alone where she has lived for 62 years. The likelihood of the need for me to call the emergency services is high, and I want them to get it right the first time. And when I call in her “code”, how do they find her? How do I find my cousin’s new apartment?

To learn your neighbor’s “code”, get the ambulance to your aunt, or find the location of your cousin’s new apartment, you and the emergency services will have to consult the database, in map form, created for this purpose. Although not yet live, the beta version I was shown is a standard Google view with the “unique identifiers” printed on each building. This is what everyone, including emergency services, will use to find my aunt.

Remember, the emergency services have said they wont use it. Like, the post office. So why on earth do we have this mess?

And forget free. You’ll have to have a digital tool with the Codes loaded, or accessible. And Google and Garmin and TomTom and all the others in the commercial world will make this available to you for a price. They will have to charge because they will have to pay to access the Eircode database and fit its data into a commercial product. You can see how much they’ll have to pay, and get back from the public, here:

Its a nice little earner for someone. I wonder who?

They then go to town on the policy. Remember, these guys, like me, have no affiliation to anybody involved, no skin in the game at all.

If an address is something required by all our institutions and by all people in their daily lives, is it not a critical component of a civilized society and a healthy economy? And if it is a critical component, why is there a charge to use it? Why it is not paid for out of general tax revenues? And why will Unique Identifiers not be made publically visible?


For a country that has been at this project for something like 10 years, we admit to being puzzled and disappointed. No doubt, an expensive street name/signage/sequential numbering solution would have been ideal. Short of that, given the incidence of “non-uniques” and large rural area, we feel that a coherent self-explanatory geocode system that provided sequential functionality for route planning and location identification would have been far more desirable. In fact, Ireland would have been the first country in the world to install such a system.

so, something free, like, oh Loc8? Nah. We dont want coherence in our public planning. Do we?


5 thoughts on “The Eircode mess – a view from the USA.

  1. Póló

    I was involved in implementing the EU Peace Programme for Northern Ireland and the border counties. While locational studies, monitoring and analysis could be done for NI which had postcodes, the absence of such in the south was a major constraint in doing detailed geographical impact analysis.

    I am assuming from what you say that the new system will not be any help here. Could you comment on this aspect of it please.

    1. Peter Finch

      Small Areas which are areas made up of between 50-200 dwellings are ideal for aggregating data for this sort of impact analysis, the CSO publishes their census statistics at this level. DED’s are bigger areas made up of Small Areas which are also useful for aggregation and visualisation of data.

      It will be straight forward enough to get the Small Area from an address/Eircode using the Eircode database (ECAD) from what I have seen.

  2. greenandmusty

    The more I read of Eircode, the more I think Irish Water.

    It really does seem to have been set up to create a revenue-generating monopoly. And as such, as something that needn’t be in the public service at all, so we might as well sell it off, because everyone knows that public monopolies are bad, but private ones are good.

  3. Pingback: Emergency services brand Eircode ‘worse than useless’ | Irish Examiner | Brian M. Lucey

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