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The Secret Candidate: Posters are a waste of time and money so here's how we could eliminate them

The erection of posters on lampposts around the country this week has sparked debate about their merits. The Secret Candidate has some solutions…

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

POSTER TIME. A set piece in the political calendar that is guaranteed to raise debate and turn heads. My opinion is simple: Posters are a joke.

They waste time, money, precious volunteer hours and they just cause an incredible level of unnecessary stress for 24-72 hours and, with the enlarged areas for these elections, they seem to be getting worse. I’ve spoken to people from all parties who have increased their budgets as they’ve felt forced into covering the entirety of the new area with the same intensity they used to cover their old area.

Even one of the independent candidates on TheJournal.ie confessed to spending €1,700 on posters, and that’s in Dublin. I met another candidate this week in a different part of the country who spent €7,000 on them.

I met another one who paid for his to be put up, at around €3 a piece. It’s an incredible amount of money for something that gets thrown away, and yet while we all agree that they’re a complete nonsense, we all seem to be stuck in this complete inertia when it comes to doing something about it. It says a lot about the Irish political system in a way, doesn’t it?

So, what steps can be taken to eliminate this political bunting in a way that balances the dual need to both let people know an election is imminent – I would accept that posters do achieve this somewhat – and make sure that the system isn’t skewed against non-incumbents and those outside of parties?

There are many ways to approach this, but there are three ways of doing this as I see it.

Poster limit

The first is limiting the number of posters each candidate can put up. This comes with two large complications unfortunately. Firstly, the posters are still there, which many people don’t want at all. So it doesn’t really solve the initial problem for some people. Secondly though, and this isn’t so much a large problem as a caveat, it would almost certainly see more and more posters appearing on private property. After all, these can’t be regulated. You already see this across the country anyway, but I imagine it would become a lot more intense so, really, is it solving the problem?

The second solution is create areas, much like they have in other European countries, which are effectively billboards on which you can paste your own paper poster or else ban posters and erect temporary hoardings in central areas. The huge caveat here of course is that constituencies often don’t have central areas.

Unlike many European cities with this system, there wouldn’t be a natural town plaza or square where you could plonk a board and allow people to paste their posters. That’s not to say it can’t be done – it’s just to say that it would be difficult and a bit unseemly.

The third solution is to go the Sean Gallagher route. People have already forgotten, but the independent presidential candidate had no posters, and he made a virtue out of it. Don’t forget, he almost won the election. So there’s definitely a vote out there for this kind of thing.

No bulletproof solution

But the problem is that you need a mighty way of getting yourself out there and letting people know you exist. Posters are definitely equated right now with viability as a candidate, subconsciously or otherwise, and while Gallagher could circumvent that by – cleverly – buying advertisements on bins in shopping centres, for example, this is out of reach of many ordinary candidates.

They also wouldn’t get a guaranteed spot on The Frontline. As the system stands, for a local election, it’s a very brave person who’d opt-out of the present system unilaterally, and fair play to them.

So, that’s all three routes exhausted and still we have no bulletproof solution. One final consideration, which would effectively force candidates – myself included – to change behaviour and completely reconsider whether posters are worthwhile or not, is a relatively simple one that I’m surprised isn’t considered more often: narrow the timeframe.

A month is a long time to have posters up, and it’s clear that they provide a worthwhile return on investment timewise, but what if that time window was shortened? Would the value proposition change? If the timeframe was narrowed to seven days before an election, would many candidates decide to expedite their poster campaigns in favour of larger canvasses?

My guess is they actually would, and that many candidates still would use posters but you’d achieve the dual effect of there being both less of them and you wouldn’t have to look at them for as long.

‘The Secret Candidate’ is running for a city council seat. Their identity is known to TheJournal.ie

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