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Alan Rice

Human being. I'm a PhD student studying molecular evolution at a university in Ireland. Likes: sugar, data & science. Dislikes: peas & cats. I don't know how I made it this far either. (he/him)

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Ireland’s official postal code system launched today over at eircode.ie and it seems like its only fan is the Department of Communications themselves. We’ve needed a code system for years with a third of addresses being non-unique. From this a number of unofficial alternatives arose: Loc8, Open Postcode Ireland, GoCode, and An Post & and the Ordnance Survey of Ireland’s GeoDirectory.

After being proposed 12 years ago and taking €27 million to implement, Eircode now gives us 2.2 million unique 7 digit codes. While Dublin carries its ‘D’ over to the start of its new codes the rest of the country gets assigned randomly. Galway gets a ‘H’, Cork a ‘T’, etc. But the codes are blind to county borders so they start to lose meaning beyond that. There goes guessing which county a code comes from based on its first letter alone.

The other part of the 7 digit codes are unique to each address and also unrelated to neighbouring addresses. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, unique, unrelated codes aren’t really helpful, especially not to the emergency services who have been critical of the system and who such a system should be designed to benefit the most.

Secondly, unique codes are also a privacy concern which Digital Rights Ireland outline better than I can, but in a sentence other systems put a few address under one code for privacy. Open Postcode and Loc8 both have nested codes where more digits gives more resolution which is nice if you want to give someone a rough address without your exact address. A bit like saying ‘Dublin 2’ rather than ‘95 Grafton St, Dublin 2’.

Thirdly, because the codes are unique and unrelated, the only way to find out an address from an Eircode or an Eircode from an address is to query the online database, for which you either pay access fees or are limited to 15 queries a day. Not ideal if you’re a small business. This is of course great if you want to make a few quid from what should be a national, open, and freely available resource and upon considering everything a system that generates money seems to be the goal.

If the code system followed something like Open Postcode where there was logic other than randomness in the assignment of the codes then there would be less reliance on one central database. The need for a postcode system would still be satisfied, emergency services would be empowered and made more reliable, privacy wouldn’t be at risk and the assignment system could be open and publicly accessible for all.

But no, let’s ignore well-founded criticism from people the system is supposed to be helping and cause side issues just so we can charge a minimum of €300 per business.


Those 15 searches per day…

The search limit currently is stored in your browser cookies under a cookie named ‘EircodeFinder’ for the domain finder.eircode.ie. Removing that cookie or using your browser’s Private/Incognito mode will conveniently reset the counter.


Bonus issue for your money!

While Eircode state on their site that “No personal information is held by Eircode and no personal information was used when creating / assigning Eircode.” and also “The Eircode database does not hold personal information i.e. people’s names are not included. The database is a list of all the addresses in Ireland, the associated Eircode and the coordinates.” a decent number of listings can be found that include people’s names.

For example the database has 1,184 results for Patrick (96 for Fitzpatrick) and while some of those are clearly businesses many aren’t as evident from this screenshot:

To give an estimate of how much of an issue this could be, there are also 3,109 results for John (with 38 for Johnson and 56 for Johnston). From what I’ve seen, I’d guess this affects rural addresses where there’re no street numbers. I’ve also managed to find people I know which is fun (for me, not them). A little quality control on the data to avoid this particular data privacy issue wouldn’t have gone amiss as part of the €27 million budget.