What If? Alternative Eircode History in a Parallel Universe

Posted by Pat Donnelly | Jul 28, 2016

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In our blog Top 5 Eircode Design Challenges published in April 2015 we gave an overview of some of the design ​implications we considered.  There were pros and cons for every option which needed to be carefully weighed before making the optimum choice.  When a decision is made, only the pros and cons of the chosen option are visible, and the pros and cons of the alternative options ​go unseen.   Criticism of design choices is perfectly valid, however there is a tendency to only point out the cons of the chosen design and the pros of the alternative option and ignore or dismiss it's associated cons.  Unfortunately we can't peek into a parallel universe and watch how those cons would have played out.

One of the main criticisms of Eircode design is that it doesn't identify small localities or areas within the code itself.  The pros associated with this option are usually given as

  1. Easier to remember
  2. Could be used for Insurance quotes, School catchments, sorting deliveries etc.

The first benefit can only be achieved if the "locality" encoded in the postcode can be easily identified and defines a meaningful area.  As there are only 4 characters in the second part of an Eircode (the unique identifier) the assumption is that the first two would be the same for all buildings in a townland or street or street segment or urban area.

The main con that is generally ignored or dismissed is how contentious the definition of the areas would be, especially if they were used by Insurance quotes, School catchment definitions etc.

In our blog we stated

"Hello I'd like to draw an imaginary line around your house which may affect your property price, insurance costs, your school catchment area, etc. Any problem with that?".
The secondary uses of postcodes appeared long after postcode boundaries were introduced in other countries. As we are late adopters these will be immediate. Current rumblings of lack of sequencing/hierarchy in the design would be replaced by local protests against the negative impact of public groupings of properties. Reaching agreement on where to draw the lines could prove impossible. Imposing a public grouping of properties that introduces postcode discrimination is fundamentally unfair. As Eircode is unique to each property it allows grouping of addresses specific to each use rather than a "one-size-fits-all" approach embedded in the postcode. Therefore hierarchy in the postcode design is not only undesirable, it is simply not required.

An article in the Irish Independent in 2009 titled "It's in the Postcode: Address snobbery is due to raise its head all over the country" by Gemma O'Doherty quotes Dr Mark Hennessy, lecturer in Geography in Trinity College as follows
People will go to any lengths to ensure they belong to the right sort of place. You get it in London, Berlin and Paris. Postcodes draw lines around areas and if you are seen to be in the wrong postcode, it can effect the value of your house and how you think you'll be perceived by others.
I work in Trinity and live on the northside. The overwhelming majority of my colleagues live in particular places on the southside. They wouldn't even consider living on the northside. Yet the same thing happens over here. You get places calling themselves Clontarf that were never considered Clontarf before. One thing that may happen as a result of the new system is that in rural Ireland, the townland may be replaced by the postal code. That would represent a very major shift, given the associations between people and their townlands that have been there for centuries.
Still, this is all just opinion isn't it, I mean how contentious and fuzzily defined are existing areas in Ireland?  In Dublin we mapped the area names (Rathmines, Glasnevin, etc.) that people use when providing their address and determined the level of overlap, the differing usage on a door by door basis along each street, the pockets of streets proclaiming they belong to a different area to all of their neighbours, etc.  Even something as seemingly straight-forward as the existing Dublin Postal Districts 1 to 24 are contentious.  We calculated the percentage of houses in each district that insisted they belonged to a neighbouring district.  Results ranged from near unanimity to significant disagreement.

The only dataset available to define localities in the postcode is the Small Area dataset created by NUI Maynooth.  In rural areas these are generally Townland boundaries.  So how much disagreement would we find here, I mean they used the official, legal Townland boundaries provided by Ordnance Survey Ireland, surely no one would argue with those?  The problem here is this is a known unknown; without conducting a nationwide survey we can't tell the size of the problem.  What we did was conduct an exercise in Mayo where local people provided the map boundaries of their townland and the borders with their neighbouring townlands.  We then compared them to the legal boundaries supplied by Ordnance Survey Ireland.  The results were as anticipated.  The definition of townland boundaries was provided with great certainty by locals, but didn't always agree.  Even when there was unanimity locally the boundaries often differed compared to the official townland boundaries.

How would people react to an "easy to remember" postcode that tells them they are part of the neighbouring townland rather than the one they've identified with all their lives?  We're back to wanting a parallel universe so we can see how badly that would play out.  

Then, low and behold, a parallel universe appeared before our very eyes and we got to see exactly how this plays out.  In an article in the Examiner titled "Tidy Towns welcome signs spark angry neighbourhood turf war" by Joe Leogue the contentious issue of the boundary line between Togher and Wilton is described opening with the following
A sign reading ‘Welcome to Togher’ has been vandalised following complaints from some residents that the new sign has been wrongly erected in the Wilton area.

However, the community group behind the sign is adamant it is in the right place, having looked up maps of the city, and consulted with council officials.
The next section of the article contains a selection of the reaction from locals:
Mr McCarthy said the group received calls, letters and a petition following the installation.

Earlier this week, the word Togher and its Irish equivalent, Tóchar, were painted over by an unknown vandal.

It is the second time the sign has been defaced in recent weeks, following an incident during which an A4 sheet reading ‘Wilton’ was sellotaped over the place name.

“Some people didn’t realise the area is actually in Togher,” Mr McCarthy said. “Over the years when estate agents were selling houses in the area they picked that name [Wilton], maybe they thought they’d get a better price. People assumed all along the area was Wilton,” he said.

Mr McCarthy said his group has written to some objectors highlighting the mapping of the area.

“They now agree that they are in the Togher parish,” he said.

Noreen Keohane has written to local TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire to complain the sign’s location has been determined by ‘ancient maps that do not apply to here and now’.

Ms Keohane said the neighbourhood is ‘devastated’ by the development.

“We got our land back from the British only to have it snatched from us by an Irish Community Association — shameful,” she wrote.

Lisa Power, who lives in Elm Park, said she grew up believing the area was in Wilton, not Togher.

“I know we’re in Togher parish but if people asked where I am from I’d say Wilton — the post coming to the house says Wilton,” she said.

Ms Power said she has not yet come across a petition being circulated in the area against the sign, but has heard concerns from some people in the neighbourhood: “Some are quite angry, they bought houses here in Wilton and they think it will affect the value of the houses if they are in Togher, it’s not an unfair thing to say,” she said.

So we could have added years to the postcode project by consulting with every community group up and down the country, ploughed ahead when agreement couldn't be achieved, added millions to the initial cost and the maintenance of Eircode, but we chose not to. We don't expect any thanks for our design choices, but perhaps they are looking on with envy in a parallel universe where they decided to implement such a solution and are dealing with reactions like "We got our land back from the British only to have it snatched from us by Eircode — shameful"

We're incredibly busy at present with Eircode projects, we've recently hired more Software Developers to keep up with the demand in the Courier, Finance and Insurance sectors.  Eircode, after a slow start, has picked up tremendous pace recently.  We're now seeing more enquiries on a daily basis than we were seeing on a weekly basis at the start of the year.
 

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