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Dublin, 2019 Leah Farrell
Local Elections

'You can't be the only one without': Politicians' love-hate relationship with election posters

Earlier this week posters began springing up across the country as we draw closer to the local and European elections.

EVERY ELECTION IN Ireland is accompanied with the same debate about election posters – they’re an eyesore, they’re too expensive, they’re bad for the environment – but year after year nothing changes.

With more politicians backing calls for a cap on the number of posters a candidate is allowed to use, might this be the year that Ireland finally changes its approach? 

Don’t get your hopes up. 

The Journal caught up with a number of political parties and local election candidates to get a sense of their approach to posters this year. 

While many have supported the idea of a cap and the introduction of designated areas for posters, most still view them as a necessary part of the democratic process.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Most of the candidates The Journal spoke to have reused their posters from previous elections and some individual candidates have said they are using less.

A spokesperson for the Green Party said there has been no strategic effort from its party HQ this year to reduce the number of election posters used but noted that some candidates might themselves be choosing to use less.

Overall, given that the party is running a record number of candidates (over 125), it’s unlikely that the total number would be down on previous elections.

The spokesperson added that most Green candidates reuse posters from previous elections. 

Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor for Dublin’s South West Inner City told The Journal that he hasn’t printed any new posters for this campaign and has instead reused the same ones from the last local elections in 2019. 

In total, Pidgeon said he has put up around 250 posters so far and will likely put up another 150 to 200. 

He’s of the view that there are far too many posters used in general, but that they are a necessary evil.

“I would support measures to reduce their number or limit them to specific areas or junctions, but I do think having some posters is a good thing.

“They show clearly that an election is happening and who’s running. We should be visibly trumpeting that an election is coming, and they’re very effective for that,” he said.

He added however that this could be achieved with “well under half” the number of posters that are currently used. 

‘They’ve almost targets’

Fianna Fáil county councillor in Monaghan, Aoife McCooey shared this sentiment and said she believes a cap on posters is needed.

McCooey was a first-time candidate in 2019 and this year has also chosen to reuse her existing posters. 

“It was five years ago but I haven’t changed that much,” she said. 

McCooey said this year she has around 50 posters up and hopes to put up around 20 more.

“Going into my second election they’re less important, but if all the other candidates have them you can’t be the one who doesn’t,” she said. 

“In an ideal world there would be a designated zone in a village or town so they aren’t just littered everywhere,” McCooey added and pointed to the town of Castleblaney as an example.

McCooey also made the point that she didn’t want to put up as many posters this year because she’s had so many defaced in the past. 

“They’ve almost targets. It’s sort of put me off posters,” she said.

Because of this, she’s chosen this year to put them up higher where they are less likely to be vandalised. This decision has meant that she isn’t vying for “prime space” with other candidates either. 

Not too far from McCooey, longstanding Fine Gael Cavan county councillor Val Smith is also reusing his previous posters and has put up about 50 this year.

Smith told The Journal that if it were up to him there would be no posters at all, but he does acknowledge that they are useful for first-time candidates.

“For established candidates, you don’t need to put your face on a poll for people to know who you are,” he said.

Back in Dublin, Labour councillor for Pembroke on Dublin City Council, Dermot Lacey has been a long time advocate for a cap on posters.  

This year, Lacey has put up his usual 200-300 posters.

He says they play an important role in highlighting the election but that there should be a limit of 200 per candidate.

Lacey also believes that Councils should be responsible for taking posters down but that candidates should have to pay for this service.

“There’s also the cost factor. That impacts on people who don’t have money. So that inhibits people from entering the contest,” Lacey said. 

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s director for elections Pearse Doherty told The Journal that similar to the Green Party there has been no centralised decision to reduce poster use. 

He said however that in his electoral area in Donegal, there are definitely fewer posters going up.

Doherty said some of this comes down to candidates starting to spend more money on social media advertising and less on posters.

“Last year was the first year I had paid advertisements on social media so your budgets are reallocated that way,” Doherty said. 

He added that people simply don’t want to see towns and villages covered in posters.

“You’re still going to have posters. Obviously for new candidates they’re extremely important,” Doherty said.

“They’ll continue to have a role, but given social media and environmental concerns they will play a less prominent role in future elections.”

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