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Explainer: The dos, don'ts and expected rows around candidate election posters

Love them or loathe them, there’ll be no avoiding them over the next three and a half weeks.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE RACE IS on. 

With a General Election set for Saturday 8 February, candidates are already erecting election posters on lampposts throughout Ireland. Cable ties are being unwrapped and ladders mounted. 

Elections – unpredictable, entertaining, at times vicious – often bring a series of candidate mishaps, party blunders and PR nightmares. 

One constant, however, is the humble election poster. 

With General Election 2020 announced less than 24 hours ago, one candidate has already fallen foul of the rules – Labour candidate for Dublin Bay South Kevin Humphries, whose election posters were put up prior to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling the election and removed by Dublin City Council shortly after.  

The Taoiseach himself was also accused of flouting the rules:

However, according to Fine Gael, as the polling order was signed today, any posters put up today are in line with regulations. 

In recent years, using election posters has come under scrutiny as a more environmentally-conscious public emerges. 

Former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten TD – now an Independent – has announced he will running a “poster-free” campaign in order to reduce the environmental impact of posters. 

The are, of course, rules for candidates and their teams to bear in mind when putting up posters. And common mistakes and mishaps for the public to watch out for over the next four weeks. 

Let’s take a look. 

When Can Election Posters Be Put Up?

Under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, candidates can only put up posters 30 days before polling day.

With polling day only 24 days from today, candidates can climb up ladders every day until Friday 7 February. 

Where Can Posters Be Placed?

A good rule here; don’t block road users. 

Under the Road Traffic Acts, election posters can’t be placed on road signs, at traffic junctions or on roundabouts. 

According to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, candidates erecting posters “should exercise extreme caution when on or near roadways and should be aware of their own and other road users physical safety.”

Dublin City Council recently told TheJournal.ie its most common complaints regarding election posters. 

The Council identifies the main issues as:

  • Posters obscuring visibility of traffic-pedestrian signals and traffic signs. 
  • Posters below head height or resting on the ground which can cause obstructions on footpaths and particularly hazardous to the visually impaired.
  • Protruding cable ties that are at a level that could cause injury to pedestrians, particularly children.

Under regulations, posters should be placed 2.3 metres above foot and cycle paths. 

Posters must not be placed on:

  • Lampposts with overhead electricity lines.
  • Traffic lights.
  • Bridge parapets.
  • Overpasses.
  • Pedestrian bridges.
  • Roadside barriers. 

And they must be secured tightly with cable ties, the Council said. 

Can Posters Be Removed And By Whom?

In 2014, “things got crazy” when then-Independent candidate in the Local Election Social Democrat Councillor Gary Gannon confronted Independent Councillor Mel Mac Giobúin.

Mac Giobúin removed one of Gannon’s posters after he claimed a cable tie had come loose and was blocking his own poster. 

“It’s really disturbing and really sad,” Gannon told TheJournal.ie at the time.

“I’ve had my whole family going around for about 15 hours putting up posters and I’ve lost more than 20 so far. I spent upwards of €1,700 euro which is a lot for an Independent candidate.”

Such incidents are not uncommon during election cycles. 

However, it’s up to Local Authorities to remove posters “if it appears…that it is in the interests of amenity or of the environment of an area to do so,” according to the Department. 

Local Authorities enforce the Litter Act so Local Authorities enforce the rules regarding election posters. 

Complaints from members of the public should, therefore, be directed to your Local Authority. 

Merry Christmas Mr Ross?

An interesting one, candidates can place their image on cars or other vehicles while out campaigning.

Remember when Councillor Kevin Daly – an associate of Transport Minister Shane Ross – attached a Christmas ‘sleigh’ atop his car with both their faces on it?

No? You do now. 

In any case, candidates can park cars featuring their face in public. They can’t, however, place election leaflets under people’s wiper blades. 

And billboards?

Well, under regulations, candidates can purchase advertising space. So don’t be surprised if you see blown up faces of political candidates over the coming weeks. 

These, however, fall under Local Authority Planning Regulations. 

When Should Posters Be Removed? 

Election posters must be removed within seven days of polling day. If a poster is still up that lamppost on 16 February, penalties come into effect. 

So, what Penalties Are In Place? 

If a candidate falls foul of the above rules – like erecting posters too early or not taking them down in time – the Local Authority can issue a €150 fine. 

Greener Election? 

In December, Dublin City Council said it was examining the possibility of limiting the number of places election posters could be erected. 

A Council spokesperson said this will not impact the upcoming General Election, however, as it is still teasing out how it could implement such a rule. 

In recent years, debate has raged with the advent of new technology to reach voters and the growth of a more environmentally conscious public.

As a result, there have been calls for the use of posters to be discontinued.

In 2018, a survey by Claire Byrne Live/Amárach Research showed that 77% of Irish people thought the use of posters during election campaigns should be scrapped.

For many candidates, however, election posters remain a “necessary evil” to get their message across. 

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