I thank members for the opportunity to give this short presentation, which I expect will take approximately ten minutes. Before commencing, I will briefly outline the challenges and provide information on the Eircode design, the consultation and the next steps in the process.
As members can see from the slide showing the timeline of key events, the project has been on the go for quite a while, having started with a Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, symposium in 2003. In 2006, the national postcode project board's report recommended that Ireland should introduce a postcode system. A good Oireachtas report was also done in 2010. It examined many of the issues with postcodes and recommended that a unique identifier be considered for the Irish addressing situation. The procurement process started in 2011 and the contract was awarded in 2013. The contract was approved by the Government in October of that year and signed in December. The code's design went to the Government in April and was launched the same month. Since then, a great deal of work has been undertaken.
Before I get into the detail of the codes, it might be useful to refer to some of the issues with addressing in Ireland. As many members are aware, there are 2.2 million addresses in Ireland, 200,000 of which are commercial. Ireland is unique compared with other countries, particularly those in the OECD, in that more than 35% of our addresses are non-unique. Effectively, this means that many people have the same address as others. Another relevant point is that, between 1991 and 2011, there was a 44% increase in the countryside's population as opposed to a 30% increase in the State overall. There was not an identical increase in housing, but there was considerable new build. I imagine that many of the new addresses are non-unique. This gives a sense of the scale of the addressing challenges applying in Ireland.
Also relevant is the fact that there can be surname clustering, particularly in rural areas. None of the names in the slide we have supplied are real, but they give a sense of an area where many people can have the same surnames and initials because they are John, James, etc. This poses a difficulty for deliveries. An Post does a good job, but the world has changed and there has been considerable centralisation of call centres. For utilities, delivery companies and emergency services, finding people in rural areas can be challenging. The development of the project is meant to address this major issue.
The addressing challenges do not stop in rural areas, as there are also issues in urban areas. For example, there is no mandated form of addressing in Ireland. As such, people tend to choose a form of address that suits them. They can have multiple forms of address for the same house, as highlighted in the slide. There are also vanity addresses. Even in cities, finding people can be difficult because the same house can have three or four types of address.
The question was what would be the best system to deal with the non-unique issue in rural areas and the addressing issues in urban areas. After a long and detailed procurement process, a great deal of work and many reports on finding the best solution for Ireland, the one that resulted was Eircode. Unique to each address, it is a seven-digit code divided into three and four digits. The first three relate to a post town. The example used is A65. Currently, there are postcodes in Dublin like D12 and D24. These are routing areas. The Dublin codes will stay the same, including D6W. After a routing area, a unique four-digit, alphanumeric code will be assigned to each address.
This unique code will mean that in Ireland, nobody will have to change their form of address. Unlike in other countries, there will be no mandated form of addressing. Nobody will have to put up signs on roads all over the country. People will not have to put anything up on their houses. In effect, this system will allow people to have unique identifiers without having to do anything themselves, aside from getting their codes next year.
I would like to deal with an issue that has been raised with regard to the unique identifier. People have asked why the code cannot be sequenced. Intuitively, one would expect that this would be a good idea. If one thinks about it, however, one will appreciate that unique identifiers that are allocated in a sequenced way will not last very long. It would be impossible for new builds to be given codes that follow the sequence. The documentation that has been furnished to the joint committee uses the example of a new house that is built between two existing houses. In such a circumstance, it would not be possible to sequence that code. Similarly, if a house were knocked to facilitate the development of apartments, it would not be possible to have a sequence. It is possible that if we adopted a sequenced system with a unique identifier, we would have the worst of all worlds because people would think it was sequenced but it could turn out not to be sequenced. In such circumstances, there would be a great deal of confusion among code holders, call centre staff and the emergency services. We have adopted a non-sequential system to make sure that when a person gets a code, that code stays with that property. When a person gets a code on a property, he or she will always have that code. That means the system we have adopted is very future-proofed. We feel it will work very well going forward. I will give an example. The use of seven digits in a three-digit and four-digit formation means that in any individual post town, one would have to go over 300,000 individual identifiers before one would run into any kind of issue. Clearly, we are a very long way from that. This shows how the system has been future-proofed.
The design of the postcodes is an issue that has been raised. People have asked whether we should have considered the UK system. Clearly, many systems were considered as part of the procurement process. In terms of the output, the system that was chosen is one that will effectively meet the needs of the Irish addressing situation, as opposed to an addressing situation anywhere else. We have adopted a non-sequential system as part of our approach to this unique situation. As there will be many addresses in each area, we hope to avoid the situation in the UK, where a postcode can define a lot about individuals in terms of where their children go to school and where they can avail of the services of doctors. We are avoiding the issue of postcode discrimination as it exists in the UK. Postcode ghettos will not apply here. We expect that the system will have many beneficial uses. When people get their codes next year, they are likely to start using them for online ordering, etc. However, the use of the system is not mandatory for individuals. No one will be forced to use the system. We believe the benefits of the codes are such that most people will start using their codes when they get them.
I would like to speak about the key benefits of this approach. It is important to think about what is in it for people on the ground and what they feel are the benefits of the codes. As part of Capita's communications strategy, it conducted a vox pop in urban and rural areas to ask people what they perceive to be the benefits of postcodes. Many people who engage in online ordering said that they would like to be able to insert a postcode when asked, just as people in other countries can do, and that this would help them to get deliveries. There was a recognition that this infrastructure is important in so far as it will allow Ireland to be up there with every other country. I think the system we have chosen is world-beating because the unique identifier suits the Irish situation. Many people, especially, in rural areas, said they clearly understand that it can hard for the emergency services and others to find locations in rural areas if they are not sure where people live. This problem is exacerbated by the extent of new builds, the prevalence of surname clustering and the other issues I have mentioned. Those who were asked about the codes could see many benefits of them. We feel that when the codes are disseminated next year, the take-up will be very high. Many people, especially those who engage in online ordering, already know about the real benefits of the introduction of these codes.
An extensive amount of consultation took place during the pre-tender phase in 2010 and 2011 and again during the post-tender phase. I will not go through all of it, obviously, but I will give a sense of what was done. While we did not engage in consultation after the design was adopted, we contacted those who will be affected by the design, including the emergency services, to ask them whether it would work for them. The Department and Capita have both engaged significantly with stakeholders. The Department has set up a forum with all the public sector bodies that will be adopting the codes next year. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. These bodies see the real benefits of the codes in terms of delivering services on the ground and, at a more strategic level, in terms of policy-making. The codes will help public bodies to identify where people live and where services such as schools and doctors' surgeries are located. They will give these bodies a sense of where the cohort of people they are trying to serve are living.
I will give a sense of how the cost of the project, which is approximately €27 million, is divided. The biggest part of the project in terms of individual payments relates to the encoding of public sector databases, such as those held by the Department of Social Protection, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The rationale for the encoding of those databases is to make sure people start using the codes immediately. When the codes have been launched, the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners, etc., will start writing to people and the dissemination of the codes will begin. People will obviously get a letter about the codes next year, but they will also start getting letters from State bodies with their codes. This will give them a sense that something is really happening on the ground. We feel that will support people taking up the codes. Other payments are being made to An Post in respect of its dissemination of the codes next year, to GeoDirectory in respect of its database, which is one of the main ways to populate the Eircode database, and to Capita in respect of the design it has produced and the population of databases. Some 18% of the costs are being paid to them.
As we roll out this very large infrastructure project next year, it will be very important for us to take the communications element of it very seriously. The Department and Capita have put a great deal of work into designing a high-end communications strategy that will explain clearly to people why they are getting the codes and the potential benefits of the codes. There will be community engagement as well as part of that. The precise modalities of that have not been worked out. This is part of the work we will be doing. Capita and the Department will have a strategy there.
The issue of data protection has been raised. The Minister has made it clear to us that he expects a belt-and-braces approach to data protection to be adopted. We fully accept this requirement. The contract with Capita contains very strong protections in regard to data protection. I know that when Capita is doing the accreditation with the value-added resellers, it will emphasise the importance of data protection. When the codes are launched next year, obviously our aim will be to ensure all members of the public have absolute confidence that their privacy concerns regarding this project are being addressed. While it is not yet strictly necessary to do a privacy impact assessment - it is not a statutory requirement - the Department has undertaken such an assessment. It has engaged with many stakeholders in the public and private sectors by asking them whether they envisage that any data protection or privacy issues will arise for individuals. They have overwhelmingly said they do not expect such issues to arise. However, they have emphasised that this is an important issue that must be managed. They clearly feel that the protections that have been provided to date are quite strong. We are satisfied that we are on the right road from a data protection perspective.
It might be useful to outline to the committee what the next steps with this project will be. We are working hard on the encoding of the public sector databases. We have put in dummy codes for the moment. Clearly, the next step is for the large owners of databases like the Departments of Social Protection and Transport, Tourism and Sport to test the codes to ensure they fit in with those databases. Most of them have a number of databases. It is important for them to be satisfied that the codes will work. Capita, which has already done a great deal of work around stakeholder engagement, will start a more intensive phase of that process in the new year. It has already set up a website, eircode.ie, which is worth looking at. It proposes to start a media campaign with the public in the early summer of 2015. The Minister has said that in mid-2015, the codes will be launched and everybody will get a letter from An Post with their codes. I thank the committee again. I will be happy to take any questions.