Seanad debates

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Regulation of Display of Electoral and Polling Posters and Other Advertisements Bill 2022: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House for this very important Bill. It is something that has come up for us, as the Green Party, an awful lot. However, I know for a fact that it comes up for every party. I refer to election posters and the scourge that people feel they are.

When it comes time for an election, we all want to get our face out there and be recognised. However, even when one looks at public polling, the majority of people are not in agreement that this is how they want democracy to go in this country. The majority of countries in the EU take a different approach, which is what this Bill is based on. It is based on ensuring that we have a democratic process that ensures that we have a level playing field and a full and free election. This means that everybody gets to have an opportunity to have their face displayed, but it is done in such a way that everybody gets the same amount of space. We have these on designated areas, which are selected by the local authority on the basis that it understands the constituency best.

The reason that I was keen to ensure that this was put into the Bill is because I spoke to councillors, and councils, particularly Galway City Council, who tried to put in place a ban on election posters. There was then the idea of having designated areas, which is what this Bill does. One thing that came up for people was the question of if they lived in one area and another councillor lives in different area, would the one designated zone be in the area where an opponent lives. I have taken that on board in this Bill in saying it is the local authority that will have designated areas, knowing that it is covering the whole constituency. That is very important. The basis of that is a set of regulations issued by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That means that there can be a fair playing field for everyone.

We have found that the number one thing that comes back from people who complain about election posters is not just the environmental aspect, which I will touch on, but it is also the fact that, for example, they fall and hit people on the head. I have actually had to go across the road and pick up election posters, because in the windy west of Ireland that is a regular occurrence. There are also cable ties on the ground, which are a nuisance for people. People with disabilities, mobility issues and those with young children who are driving buggies along the footpath all have to get around fallen election posters. In 2019, Dublin City Council issued more than €30,000 in fines for people who had incorrectly erected their posters.These fines were issued predominantly because of complaints from members of the public. We, as elected representatives, really need to take on board what the public says it wants. It does not want posters everywhere. However, it is also fair enough to say we want to make sure there is visibility for candidates. In other countries, there are designated areas at which the posters are visible and that give candidates an opportunity, instead of just showing their faces, to really lay out what is in their manifestos and the reasons people should vote for them. That is another benefit of this proposal.

To move on to the issue of the environment, there were 600,000 posters in the 2014 local election campaign. That is the equivalent of 23 Croke Parks full of posters. Most of the posters are of really poor quality plastic because that is the cheapest. The Green Party quite famously tried to produce more environmentally friendly posters but they disintegrated, as the Minister will remember. It is more costly to do other things and environmentally friendly posters do not stand up to the weather in this country. The 600,000 posters reportedly produced 360 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The posters are a nuisance and create plastic that pollutes our oceans and the whole countryside. In addition, they have an impact on our carbon emissions. We are leaders in our communities and it is time for us to show leadership for the climate and environment however we can. This Bill is one of the ways we can.

The Minister of State ran without election posters and got over the line. Fair play to him. What is really notable, however, is that he had had a long career before that. It is quite difficult to run with no posters when everyone else is running with them. That is why we must all make sure we are on the same road and why we have to proceed through legislation and regulation. Individual councils have been trying to address this but have not been able to get over the line because they cannot make the decisions; they have to be made within the Department. One approach is to consider changing this. Another involves regulations that allow the local authorities to decide where poster zones would be. That is what this Bill would do.

Another huge factor for me is that we are trying to have more diversity in politics. It is incredibly expensive to get into politics. In the last election I was up against people who literally had thousands of posters. There was no way I could have afforded thousands of posters, nor was there any way that my party could have afforded to give me any money towards them. An independent candidate does not get any support either. One is really banking on getting a certain number of votes to get back some expenses, but the money does not really go anywhere near what it takes to make up for thousands of posters.

This legislation is a measure that ensures more equality and better representation in politics, which is what everybody says they want in this Chamber and in the Dáil. This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to making decisions that will make politics more inclusive. We have a low rate of representation by women in politics, and there is also a low rate of representation by those who do not have the social capital. If one does not have social capital, one needs to make one's face known. Those who are better known and have a longer history in their communities are the ones who get over the line. When parties, particularly larger ones, are looking for people to run, they ask who is really well known in the community and who has a family that is really well known. These are the factors that are taken into account, but they should not necessarily be. We should be ensuring that people who are newer to our country are supported as well. One step — it is only one — is to make sure that when it comes to visibility during an election campaign, everybody gets the same shot. That is what this Bill will do.

I will go through some of the specific elements of the Bill for Members.It seeks to regulate the placement of election posters and materials for advertising referendums to a given number of designated areas, which will be chosen by the relevant local authority. The Bill seeks to ensure that the advertising of election candidates and referendums is fairer, cleaner, safer and less wasteful. It would prevent the current practice of attaching election materials to every lamppost, road bridge and electricity pole. Instead, it establishes designated areas where election and referendum materials can be placed during campaigns. This would enable the public to go and receive information on all candidates running in an election or information on both sides of a referendum. It would reduce a lot of waste, street clutter and littering, which is often the accidental result of postering. We do not intend to litter but I cannot tell Senators the number of times I have picked up other candidates' election materials from a bush and delivered them back to them because I was not going to let the litter remain in the environment.

This approach would also ensure that it is fairer for independent candidates and candidates from smaller parties by ensuring they can get the same amount of advertising as a candidate running for a larger and wealthier party. These designated areas would be established through regulation by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The local authority would be given the task of establishing various designated areas across a constituency in line with the regulations. These could include stipulations that advertisements are clearly visible and easily legible, that the appropriate number of designated areas exist across a local area, that the permissible locations for designated areas for advertising be established during an election or referendum campaign and that minimum and maximum dimensions be specified for the designated areas for the display of electoral posters and advertisements. This approach is intended to ensure that fair coverage is given to each candidate or to each proposal that is the subject of a referendum.

I reiterate that this approach is taken in other European countries. Therefore, we are not reinventing the wheel. It involves exploring what works well in other areas and determining what will ensure we will not see people from those other countries coming to Ireland in the middle of an election campaign and wondering how we are so out of step. We are out of step when what we are saying now is that we are leaders when it comes to action on climate with our Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, and when we are also leaders, as the Minister of State will know, when it comes to actions on national parks and wildlife. Littering is another subject close to people's hearts. I ask Senators to support this Bill. Undoubtedly, some will have their own suggestions as to how to deal with this issue, but I hope others, even those from wealthier and larger parties, can at least agree it is time for us all to operate on a level playing field.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I welcome this Bill and commend the Members from the Green Party who have brought it forward. The plastering of our towns and cities with blown-up images of incumbent and prospective politicians has long been the most immediately apparent hallmark of an election. Even this tradition must be examined as we strive to be more conscious of the waste of materials and energy and to move beyond a throw-away society.

A general election can see as many as 200,000 posters produced. Laying these down head to toe would create a long line of plastic that could stretch across the island from Galway Bay to Dublin city centre. In 2018, a survey commissioned by the "Claire Byrne Live" show and undertaken by Amarach Research showed that 77% of Irish people thought the use of posters during election campaigns should be scrapped. Additionally, the aesthetics of the practice are questionable. I do not care how attractive candidates are, I do not want to see them on every lamppost for a two-mile stretch on a main road.

Recent years have seen more and more community associations and residents groups around the country pushing for poster-free zones in their areas. It is not hard to see why. Many people view these posters as something of a visual blight on our neighbourhoods, and I doubt there are many who feel strongly on the other side of the proposition. Ireland is recognised internationally for the beauty of its towns. We recognise this with laws to preserve architecture and open spaces. Surely we can find a way to ensure such protection exists during election cycles as well. Yet, these posters serve a vital role in ensuring candidates' visibility, particularly for new and upcoming political hopefuls. If we were to ban posters altogether, it would make the already hard job of getting into politics almost impossible for many people. It could be the case that voters might see a candidate's name for the first time on the ballot paper. This is certainly something we would like to avoid in the interests of holding free and fair elections.

It will be interesting to see what regulations the Minister opts for under this proposed legislation. We must strike a balance between the visibility of candidates on one hand and sustainability and respect for local areas on the other. It is particularly hard to run in elections as an independent candidate, whether those are local or national campaigns. I refer to the cost of running for election. I would welcome a ban on posters, but I am already established. People know my face and my trademark glasses. People know who Sharon Keogan is. It is hard for other independent candidates, and it will also be similarly difficult for people coming into politics in future, to get known unless a candidate's face is known to the public. Social media alone does not do that. We cannot rely on social media only. Designating an area in every town and village for advertising is possibly the way to move forward. I look forward to seeing how the Minister of State acts in this regard.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: - “the Bill be read a second time on 30th June, 2023, to allow for further consideration of the Bill.”

I welcome the Minister of State to the House again. I am delighted to see him here to discuss this important legislation. This is an initiative I wholly support. It goes to a subject close to my heart, as someone who has fought far more elections than is good for anybody’s health. I have also dealt with far too many posters over my lifetime. I would love to see the banning of posters and I have advocated for this for a long time. When I advocated this measure when I was a member of Dublin City Council, I was accused of trying to push down other candidates because I was from a big party and I was a big candidate. I understand, however, the narrative behind that attitude.

I do not propose this amendment to be obstructive or to seek in any way to prevaricate on this issue. This matter is part of a much wider issue when we talk about our democracy and consider our electoral process. This is an issue on which the Minister and Minister of State have taken significant action and I commend them on that. I refer to the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 introduced earlier this year. We are long overdue electoral reform. We have a strong and old democracy and one we can be proud of. It is not without its weaknesses, however, and there is room for improvement. The Bill brought forward, on which I and my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage have done pre-legislative scrutiny, has great potential to strengthen our democracy through the establishment of a permanent statutory independent electoral commission.

That electoral commission will strengthen our democracy by bolstering our election process not only for local and presidential elections, but for all elections. It is especially important that we deal with the issue of posters. To a certain extent, posters are an obvious and public manifestation of some parties' clout and their deep pockets and armies of operatives that enable them to put up not just thousands, but tens of thousands of posters overnight and subsequently remove them. Other candidates' posters can also be quite mysteriously removed, only for them to reappear after the deadline for taking down posters has passed, with the result that the poor candidate gets fined.

Getting back to the issue at hand, not only does the electoral commission proposed under the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 have the potential to deal with the not-so-nice elements of postering, but it also has the potential to deal with the electoral register and the registration of voters.Dealing with this issue is long overdue. The register is far from fit for purpose. It is far too easy to exploit and abuse it. There are polling stations where people who have been dead and buried for many years vote. I say with no disrespect to those who have gone before that they really should not have a say in modern-day elections. Those who abuse people who are deceased by using their polling cards to vote fraudulently attack our democracy. There is also the operation of the polling stations themselves with regard to checking voters' identity. The almost overwhelming support for some candidates in some polling boxes is spectacularly uniform. This is an important issue.

The funding of political parties is a very murky business. Some political parties and elected representatives are incredibly transparent and raise funds through €10 or €20 tickets and table quizzes. They are fully compliant with our standards in public office which is very important. It is not a level playing field and we all know this. The electoral commission has a job to do on this.

We speak about posters and how they can dominate but in some respects they are easier to police than social media, the use of technology and modern communications. They are a lot more transparent. People can see the thousands of posters that are up but social media is on our phones. It is not just Meta, Facebook and Instagram, although they openly tell us they have no interest in the truth, have no role to play and abdicate all responsibility when it comes to asserting, enforcing or encouraging standards of honest communication on their platforms. There are also all of the other communication apps, such as WhatsApp, and fake community groups and fake chat groups that are hijacked and infiltrated and used to promote insidious false narratives and discussions.

I commend Senator O'Reilly on this initiative. I support it. The reason I support a delay in the next reading of the Bill is because we cannot deal with this issue in isolation. We must have an holistic approach to our electoral process. We must look at all of its weaknesses and address all of them. I ask the Minister of State to deal with this urgently. The next local elections will be soon upon us. Every candidate deserves an equal playing field. All those who put themselves forward as candidates in an election deserve to know they are contesting the election on a level playing field. They deserve to know the State operates elections in a way that protects, champions and delivers democracy.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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The excitement of elections is something we should never forget.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I support amendment No. 1 tabled by Senator Fitzpatrick. I have also been the victim of those mysterious reappearing posters that manifest throughout the country. It is certainly not confined to Dublin. I am sure it is reflected in practice throughout the entire country.

I do not have a strong view on this one way or the other. I see the merits and demerits of what is proposed. Anyone involved in electoral politics will speak about the hassle of getting posters together and getting them put up and taken down and say it is something we could all do without. Equally, on the other side, face recognition is very important particularly for new candidates. We must also be mindful that while we all try to reuse posters sometimes during the electrical cycle we change. I think back to my 2009 electoral posters when I was 21. I do not think I would be recognisable. Certainly I had more hair than I do now. We have to be mindful and cognisant of the reality of the ageing process.

The programme for Government committed to the establishment of a new electoral commission. This is before the Dáil at present. It is the intention of the Government that the new electoral commission will carry out a body of work within 12 months of being established. It will examine some of these issues, particularly election posters. It will bring forward proposals prior to the local elections in 2024. This is to be welcomed. Having a permanent statutory electoral commission is something that has been broadly welcomed on all sides of the political divide.

Senator Fitzpatrick referenced the electoral register. This is something about which I was quite vocal during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Electoral Reform Bill. We still have work to do on this. The proposal is that we write to people three times to see whether they no longer reside at a property. This needs to be done within a statutory time period. Unless we do so, we will continue to see an inflated register that this is not reflective of the people who reside in a locality.

I welcome that we will introduce a connection with PPS numbers. We need to move full square to this system within a short period of time. Unless we do so, we will continue to have an inaccurate register. All of us in politics acknowledge this is a particular problem. An inaccurate register has a knock-on effect on percentage turnout rates. They might seem particularly low but in reality they are probably much higher because people do not live in the locality, are deceased or are no longer in the country. The work of reconciling PPS numbers with those residing in locations needs to be carried out within a statutory time period. I do not see a need for a parallel system that does not contain PPS numbers. We all get a PPS number when we are born or move to the State. It is an accurate way to go. I understand an impact assessment must be carried out on this and the Department is working on this. For the future of our democracy, getting the electoral register correct is one of the most important things we can do as legislators. This is why I feel the Electoral Reform Bill 2022, which is before the Dáil and will come before the Seanad, is of the utmost importance.

It is important that the new electoral commission examines the issue before us with regard to posters and takes on board the suggestions made in good faith by Senator O'Reilly and her colleagues. I do not have a strong view one way or another. The difficulties and challenges are there for everybody involved in electoral politics.It is never any harm to question, challenge and change things. Nothing stays the same. Perhaps the days of restricting election posters are upon us. I am sure this is an issue the electoral commission will take a strong view on.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I apologise for being late. I listened to Senator Pauline O'Reilly's opening contribution on my phone while on my way to the Chamber. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As ever, he is very welcome.

I commend anyone who puts in the work and brings forward a Private Members' Bill. I also sympathise with the Senators on the motion to delay. I have experienced that on a number of occasions, particularly around electoral reform issues. The voting at 16 Bill was delayed on two occasions in the last term. On this occasion, I will make the case for posters and I hope it will be a robust case.

We can all agree that posters, regardless of whether they are placed on designated structures, play a very important and vibrant part in our democracy. As the Chair said, they create a sense of an election. People like Theresa Reidy would agree that democratic participation is assisted by the presence of posters. They ensure that the electorate is aware an election is on. Senator O'Reilly talked about social capital. In the absence of posters, a large number of people, perhaps those in marginalised groups who are not as engaged in current affairs programming, would be at a disadvantage in terms of the awareness of an election, and that would affect the turnout. We know that when posters go up, the campaign is elevated and made real for so many people. I am a supporter of election posters. Sinn Féin is certainly a supporter of election posters. I joined Sinn Féin at 16 years old when we had four Deputies. We have been a small party and a big party.

I also believe that restricting posters would give an advantage to incumbents. New candidates struggle to get their names out there. It takes time to build a social media presence and they may have to contend with an echo chamber. If posters are restricted to a certain number of locations in each local electoral area or polling district, the campaigns with deeper pockets will be able to use private spaces, bus shelters, mobile billboards and car wraps, to gain an advantage.

Renters would not be allowed to put billboards or posters in their garden. Homeowners would be allowed to do so, but renters would need the agreement of their landlord. I cannot get on board with the idea of equalising the space for all candidates because I think campaigns with more money may have an advantage if we restrict posters.

Everything has a carbon footprint. Carpenters will be used to build possibly thousands of designated structures. If there are 166 local electoral areas in the country, depending on how many designated structures would be needed we could be looking at thousands of structures having to be built. As I said, everything has a carbon footprint. Canvassing probably has a very high carbon footprint in terms of driving cars. The hierarchy of waste includes reduce, reuse, recycle. In regard to reuse, I had 250 posters in my local election campaign of 2014. They are still sitting in the attic. Similar to what Senator Cummins said, I would say I am unrecognisable. I had 250 posters but some candidates go way overboard. Posters do not get candidates elected, as the Minister of State and others are aware. I was very impressed that he did not have any election posters. There is definitely merit in the argument to reduce the number of posters. For a number of elections, we have reduced the size of posters to better match the size of the pole. This means fewer cable ties are used and fewer posters blow away.

In terms of reuse, many candidates wipe down their posters, dry them out and put them away. In terms of recycling, perhaps the civic amenity should be open for a greater amount of time after an election or, indeed, all the time. I have nothing good to say about cable ties. I try to collect as many as possible when we are taking down posters. I probably remove triple the number of cable ties relative to posters we have put up.

I am thinking about winter elections, when people do not have a chance to answer the knock on the door. Maybe 50% of doors will be answered if a candidate is doing well. Many people have "No junk mail" signs. Sometimes these things can be a sign of an anti-politics feeling, as much as environmentalism.

I will finish on a point that dawned on me when Mary Upton was asked by the Ceann Comhairle to chair the family-friendly forum, which I was invited to sit on. I welcomed her and told her that I remember coming home on a school run when I was five or six years of age and spotting Mary Upton in a car. We realised who she was because of the posters we saw around the constituency. That is the sense of an election for a five- or six-year-old that might be lost if we go too far in restricting posters. Candidates will never advertise to people who are not on the electoral register.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly for bringing the Bill before the House. This is an issue about which politicians, in particular, become very excited and have large numbers of opinions, but I am not sure that everybody does. I have an intense dislike and hatred of posters, but that is mainly due to the exertion that goes with them. I had to chase after a poster of mine through two fields on Valentine's night in the middle of a freezing February.

Everybody knows the feeling of losing an election and then taking down their posters and being dumped on by three-week-old rainwater when doing so. We receive phone calls from people saying there are either too many or not enough posters, or that it took us a night to put them up and why do we not take them down. I hate them and I would love to be in a situation where the physical exertion involved in putting up posters is no longer required. However, we have to speak to the merits of the Bill and consider the impact it may have on democracy. This is an important first step in raising this issue. It comes up during every election, but it is rarely discussed between elections. That is why this debate is good, and we can take a step back and think about what works and what can be facilitated. I wish to add my personal opinions. Like every political party, the Labour Party does not have an absolutely settled opinion on posters. Different people have different views and opinions. We should approach this debate in that way rather than digging ourselves into the trenches, one way or the other.

The Bill provides for the Minister to make regulations in respect of this matter. Perhaps the most relevant provision in the Bill allows the Minister to set out "a method for the calculation of the maximum number of advertisements allowed in respect of each candidate, or proposal which is the subject of the referendum, on each designated structure." I have some worries around that provision, as a first draft, because I am not sure it should be up to a Minister to be able to set them. Could a Minister allow 600 posters for one political party that has three candidates, while allowing 200 posters for another political party? There needs to be independence of oversight when it comes to doing that.The Minister of State setting up an electoral commission, which exists in many other countries, is welcome. For too long we have not had one designated electoral commission to look at things like ensuring the freeness and fairness of elections. We are lucky to have a free, fair and robust democracy. That is not guaranteed and an electoral commission, rather than a Government or Minister of the day, should be tasked with setting it.

We need to ensure that democracy is fun and engaged. Posters are fun and engage people in the democratic process. I would not like us move to a state where we had a democratically sanitised streetscape so people would not know an election is going on, unless it is in designated spaces. The way we do it at the moment in the middle of the night or, as some people do it, at 5 p.m. when the litter wardens go home, running around like lunatics - that is probably not a great choice of word - is probably not the best way. We can make it more efficient and easier for people who do not have huge numbers of volunteers to do it. Posters bring a frisson of recognition to the democratic and electoral process that is not seen if it is overly controlled. Democracy has to be robust but also dirty, fun and messy. That makes elections elections and engages people.

We will not vote against this Bill. There are many views in my party on this issue. We need to make sure smaller parties and the robustness of democracy are protected. It is a worthwhile, open and welcome debate to conduct in the middle of an election cycle when it is not pressing and nobody is throwing their opinions at us. That enables us to consider how we do it in a way that is effective, environmentally friendly and easier on people like me who hate postering, while also engaging people in the democratic process.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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The Acting Chair referred to the excitement of elections, and that was a very true statement. The Minister of State is welcome to the House. It is always a pleasure to be here with him because he engages with us and listens to us. That is important in our process. I commend Senator Pauline O'Reilly. We are having this discussion because she brought it before us. It is important.

As speakers from various sides spoke I thought of my election periods and all the times I was told I had better get a poster up because there was none of me in the area, that there were too many posters up and to get them down or that they were too close to the Tidy Towns region and should be taken down. We are all aware of the many comments made on election posters. We need to have the discussion but I am in favour of amendment tabled by Senators Fitzpatrick and Cummins giving a period of time to discuss this rather than rush it.

Even the bigger parties, and I know my party colleagues will agree with me on this, now have to pay most of our election costs. We do not get large amounts of money to buy posters. It is very expensive. Losing an election was a bitter pill for me and my family to swallow, which was followed up with a serious fine from Galway County Council, because it was the Roscommon-Galway constituency, for allegedly having posters up, when they had in fact been taken down. I fought a hard battle with the council. It was only doing its job but it cost me an awful lot of money at a time when I did not have it and had just lost an election. That infuriated me. In one case it was party workers who took down the posters and I took their word for it, but in the other case my brother and I removed the posters. They went back up and we were fined by the local authority. I thought we had to ensure some protection against this. I would like to see this addressed in a Bill so people who definitely have not re-erected posters are not penalised. How we would do it, I do not know, but it is unfair. I am not the only one who has suffered in that regard.

I think I can speak for the vast majority of those who fought local elections with me in Roscommon when I say I do not think any candidate in Roscommon would go into a Tidy Towns area for the past 15 or 20 years. Most would not erect posters on bad or acute bends or put up too many posters. Something I note in my county and have done myself is as follows. I am not a fan of huge posters and think they should be limited but there is a type of board structure used by candidates. One puts up less of them in the county or electoral area. They are tidier and more acceptable.

Senator Dolan, when she was Acting Chairperson, mentioned the excitement of elections. If we were to remove all postering, elections could be very dull. There is a need for them not to go up in rural towns and Tidy Towns regions but I see a problem for the bigger urban areas as well. Senator Moynihan referred to that. Do we not allow people to put up any posters in major towns and cities? I do not think that would be fair.

Senator Moynihan mentioned the poll on the Claire Byrne show some time back. There is no doubt about it. The Irish public does not want towns and villages littered with posters and does not want them in Tidy Towns areas. The vast majority do not want that. We do not have to completely get rid of them, but to put a structure in place to control them. Perhaps a designated area is the way to go. How that would work, I do not know, but it is worth looking at. If we do not rush into this and give a reasonable time for debate, many good views can come from various parties and everybody will get a fair crack of the whip. I do not think anyone in Ireland would disagree with what has been brought forward today in terms of addressing the issue and curtailing posters in certain areas but not getting rid of them completely. I would not like that to happen but it is a good debate to have and interesting to listen to comments from all sides of the House.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly and the Green Party Senators for using their Private Members' time to initiate this debate because it is important and people go very slowly. Despite what people might say, there is huge resistance to controlling posters. I am in favour of the substantial controlling of public posters. The product used in making them is a concern, as is the amount of them used. Larger political parties have an advantage over the smaller parties and Independent candidates. The latter are courageous, strong, robust individuals who put themselves on the ballot paper, and there are plenty of them around the country. They have difficulty in securing manpower to get the posters up and in paying for their design and manufacture. There has to be another way.

I lived in Greece in the early 1980s and there were designated boards. If anyone knows anything about the Greek people, they are highly political. In 1980 and 1981, there were television monitors on screens with political cartoons. It was amazing. People sat around pubs drinking ouzo, coffee and God knows what. There was huge political engagement. They are very political in everything they do and, in many ways, that is to be admired.They had designated areas for posters outside the offices of the mayors on all of the squares. The names of candidates were listed on boards, left to right alphabetically.

I am familiar with the position in the greater London area, particularly in Greenwich, where there are no posters. Amazingly, there are very few posters in Britain. The Electoral Commission provides every candidate who has been nominated and approved with an A4 sheet to use in whatever way he or she likes, provided it is legally compliant, does not incite hatred and meets all the usual standard checks. Candidates can print a picture, message and whatever on the sheet, which is then delivered to every house in the locality. That is a wonderful idea. Rather than all of the trash people get through their doors, everybody gets one sheet that conveys a message. It is not the case that the more posters a candidate puts up, the more votes he or she will get. I know candidates who spent a lot of money on posters but did not get elected. They did not even get half a quota so there is a lesson in that.

I always say that success in elections and political life is about breaking bread at people's tables. That is a simple analogy but what I mean by that is that we have to look people in the eye, make our case and ask them to give us the gift of their vote. While that is time-consuming, it is a very successful way of engaging. I do not say this glibly but it is about meeting people. The Irish electorate likes to meet people, be it at town-hall rallies or in community centres. Traditionally, people would stand on the backs of lorries parked outside mass and roar their message. Funnily, they did not go to Anglican churches. I think there was an understanding that the Anglicans would not tolerate such behaviour for some reason, and it did not happen.

Mount Merrion is a little suburb in south County Dublin. Elections are about community engagement and citizens. The residents of Mount Merrion have issued a notice that they do not want election posters in their area and if they are put up, they will campaign against the candidate in question. We see the same in Dalkey village and other areas. Mount Merrion and Dalkey village are two places in my neck of the woods where this happens and it also happens in other areas. Citizens, be they Tidy Towns committees or civic groups, can exercise power, take the initiative and collectively decide that they do not want posters. We are talking about local government, engaging with people, having elected mayors and giving citizens powers. Let us take back some of that and say, "Hang on, I am in a Tidy Towns district and this is our district." Let us network with residents associations and say we do not want posters. That works and candidates must respect it. I am sure Senator Ward is familiar with Mount Merrion and the approach taken up there, which works.

I welcome this debate and I am sympathetic to the proposal. We should have some mechanism of postering but it should be limited because we have to help new candidates. Name recognition is important in politics. I remember speaking to a guy in the Irish Marketing Institute of Ireland about politics and success in politics and elections. He said we should remember that politicians are a product like any other. He picked up a green bottle of Heineken, spun it around and said, "Heineken is in a green bottle and Coca-Cola is in a red can; that is branding, marketing and name recognition." There is something in that and the psychology of it. We can look at other ways of creating razzmatazz and encouraging people to engage, which is a feat the Green Party has mastered. I remember Roger Garland getting elected. A few days before the election, using two pieces of string he tied one poster to a bicycle placed outside the library in Stillorgan. People laughed at him for doing so but a few days later he had a big smile on his face when he was elected to Dublin South, as it was then known. Politics is as much about messaging, walking the walk and communicating one's message. I agree, however, that new candidates need support.

The Electoral Reform Bill 2022, which has reached Committee Stage in the Dáil, provides scope to deal with a lot of this. The programme for Government states that the electoral commission will be tasked with examining the use of election posters within 12 months of its establishment and that the Government will legislate for its recommendations in advance of the 2024 local elections. There is a three-party coalition Government in place and its programme for Government belongs to the Minister of State and Government Senators. I urge them to hold the partnership to account, although Opposition Members, including me, prefer to call it a coalition. That is what the Government has signed up and committed to. That is what the parties have committed to. I wish the Minister of State every success.

Senator Barry Ward: @ 5.11 to 5.45 mins - Ar dtús

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Mar is eol don Leas-Chathaoirleach, tá an-mheas agam do na Seanadóirí O’Reilly, Martin agus Garvey a chur an Bille seo roimh an Teach. Aontaím go hiomlán leis an intinn atá taobh thiar den Bhille seo ach ní féidir liom aontú leis an mBille féin leis an méid a dhéanann sé i gcoinne na fógraíochta polaitíochta atá an-tábhachtach ar fad.

There is a single really good reason we should not support this Bill. Senator Boyhan popped it out at the end of his speech as if it was an unimportant detail. I think it is a hugely important detail. New candidates in politics who are running for office and putting their names on ballot papers need an opportunity to get their names out there. It would be fundamentally unfair to remove the primary mechanism for doing that, which is postering during election time. It has been said that we should have regulation and restrictions but we already so. In fact, we have an increasing number of restrictions. I agree with all of them, particularly concerning postering close to polling stations and also in respect of other aspects of postering. Those restrictions are important and appropriate. Removing posters or restricting them in a way that this Bill proposes is not appropriate. I am afraid I have concluded that it is unfair to new entrants in elections. That is the single biggest reason this Bill cannot and should not pass.

I disagree with Senator Boyhan's suggestion that political parties and not the brave and courageous Independent candidates have an advantage and not. Apparently party candidates are not brave and courageous and I am sure that is not what he meant.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I did not say that.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Of course not, and I am not really suggesting the Senator did. I do not believe political parties have an advantage. Anybody can put up posters. In fact, the people who get a real advantage from posters, the real name recognition, are the first-time candidates.

There are lots of other reasons. The international comparisons are perhaps not as reasonable as they might appear. Let us take the example of other jurisdictions where there is a single place in a village or town square where people are allowed to place posters. That system may work very well for them but other jurisdictions have different electoral systems. Many of them have list systems, for example, so people vote for parties rather than individuals. Until we change our system and make it otherwise, the individual will be the trump in our elections. Individuals, even if they are part of a multi-candidate party ticket or courageous Independents, must be able to put their name out there and do their best to publicise themselves in a reasonable way. Hamstringing them is unfair, in my respectful view. It is important not to make comparisons with countries. While this approach may well work for them, I do not believe it would work for us in the same way.

Another factor is our geography. We do not have the same focus on villages and towns. Our population is much more widely spread than populations in much of the rest of Europe. People tend to live in villages and town centres in Europe in a way that we do not. Thank God the Irish countryside is relatively well populated with people who are dispersed throughout the countryside. They would lose out in a circumstance where they had to go into the village centre to see the posters. As such, I do not agree with that analysis either.

Pageantry is important. Although as a politician, a political nerd and somebody who follows this kind of thing, I might appreciate the pageantry that comes with politics. That is not a good enough reason, however. What is a good enough reason is the actual publication of the fact of an election. People get their information in different ways now. In particular, young people often do not subscribe to the mainstream news that might come through RTÉ at 6 p.m. on the television, 1 p.m. on the radio or whatever other time it might be. Those people may not even know there is an election on if they are not plugged into the right channels or if they are not aware of the political process or whatever it might be. As a politician, we would hope they would be aware of it and that we would be able to reach them but the way we reach them now is through postering, among other things. Postering is a really effective way of announcing an election is taking place and the candidates in the area who people can vote for. It creates a discussion around the postering and, therefore, around the election. It is important to publicise an election and ensure that as many people as possible are included in the process and informed about it. Of course, there are other ways to do that but postering is a key part of that. To eliminate postering to the extent proposed in the Bill would do a disservice to those who have the opportunity to vote and participate in that election.

I am sorry to keep picking on Senator Boyhan but he mentioned Mount Merrion and Dalkey, which are areas that are local to both of us.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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This is great.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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I am aware of the huge work that is done by the Dalkey Tidy Towns committee and Des Burke-Kennedy. They have done amazing work making a fabulous place out of Dalkey, as if it was not a fabulous place already. In the most recent election, they talked about removing all posters from a wide area around Dalkey. I have got news for those who say this is citizens taking back power. We are the people that citizens are choosing.The politicians - the people who put their names on ballot papers - are the representatives of the citizens. Citizens do not have to rule those people out. They can actually still talk to them. God knows, in Ireland more than in any other jurisdiction in the world, and certainly more than in any other jurisdiction in Europe, politicians are close to the people. They are talking to the people and listening to them. They knock on people's doors every day. We complain about the clientelism of Irish politics but the reality is it brings the body politic much closer to people on the ground. I have no doubt politicians are plugged into the citizenry, being citizens themselves in the vast majority of cases, and hear what they have to say. In fact, what I would oppose is a Tidy Towns committee making a decision for all the citizens. I have significant respect for Tidy Towns committees. The Tidy Towns committee in which I am involved in my area, Monkstown, is a fantastic organisation with great people, but that does not mean they get to make decisions for other people. That is an important part of it.

What is absolutely correct, however, is that more posters do not equal more votes. Votes are not won by posters; they are won by hard work. Working for people, knocking on their doors, listening to their concerns and then acting on those concerns is what wins votes. When it comes to elections, however, everybody must have an equal chance to get their name out there and posters, like it or lump it, are a key part of that.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chuig an Seanad. I, too, commend Senators Pauline O'Reilly and Garvey on bringing forward this important debate about the future of our democracy. I have sympathy with many of the points that have been made, including some of those excellently advanced by Senator Ward, because although everyone gets tired of seeing places festooned with posters, there are crucial questions that need to be asked in respect of the purpose of posters and whether they have an impact. I agree that posters never got anyone elected. If anything, as those of us who have been candidates will know, particularly in circumstances where a candidate has running mates, it tends to end up with rows about posters and who has put your poster in the wrong area. If a Tidy Towns committee in a candidate's postering area decides to ban posters, his or her running mates will very helpfully inform the committee they will not put posters up in those areas anyway. It has caused lots of rows.

One of the interesting points in respect of election posters that has not been remarked on is that they have a rich social history. I love looking at Alan Kinsella's Irish election literature website. Some of the election posters from the early years of the State were a lot more graphic than those we see today. They tell the story of the State. There are still candidates who are very imaginative in the context of posters. I think of Martin Mansergh, whose posters used to read "Martin Mansergh - dedicated parliamentarian", rather than the usual "Vote for change" slogan that almost always appears on the election posters of candidates. Members will be familiar with John Pender, a long-standing councillor in Carlow who frequently recycled his posters. Among his posters were ones with the slogan "Johnny's got you covered", which definitely got him attention through the years.

I agree with the remarks of Senator Ward. I have often encountered people who only become aware there is an election on when they see election posters on poles. That is especially true in the case of referendums because, by their nature, referendums do not generate the same level of door-knocking as an election does. Unless it is a prominent referendum, there is not the same level of attention.

I have seen how the system operates on continental Europe. The boards system works quite well. Some of them are more than just posters; they are information for people. As Senator Ward mentioned, however, those countries have different electoral systems. Often, they do not have the same personality votes we have in Ireland. If we are going to have a debate about using a different electoral system, that will certainly be interesting, but dare I suggest the electoral commission legislation is probably broad enough in terms of all the issues it has to cover, including that of Seanad reform, which I hope we will soon come back to in this Chamber, and the question of the enactment of the seven amendments the Minister of State has committed to addressing as part of that legislation. Simply to apply here what operates in other countries is not necessarily the wisest move.

If one is an experienced and known candidate who has been a councillor or public representative for a long time, one can almost survive without posters. People will know your face and who you are. It is very difficult for new candidates. As Members are aware, it is common for public meetings to be organised for new candidates and for the name of the candidate to be clear on the poster, whereas the subject of the meeting may not be as clear. It is an opportunity for candidates to gain recognition.

There is a broader question in respect of fly-posting and postering more generally. I appreciate the focus of the Bill is very much on electoral postering, but one of the issues that frustrates me is random fly-posting which, in many cases, damages the visual amenity of the area and is not as environmentally friendly as it could be.

In considering this issue, we also need to take account of the cable ties used to attach posters to the poles. Whatever about posters being taken down - as a general rule, most candidates are pretty good about ensuring their posters come down after an election - cable ties being left on the poles is a big problem. There may need to be consideration of a system of registration or whatever. In addition to the requirements for posters to be taken down seven days after an election, we need to consider a requirement for the pole ties to be taken down.

This feeds into a broader political debate in respect of how we engage people in politics to a wider extent. It is not just about politics at election time. This is going to be about how young people are engaged in political issues and how we counter misinformation and disinformation. As I outlined, historically, posters played an important role in informing people, but if we remove one element we also have to look at the broader question of how we keep people politically engaged. I do not think it can be divorced from the broader argument. That said, I broadly support the principle of what Senator O'Reilly is trying to achieve and I think it will be a healthy debate as part of the electoral commission legislation.

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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My first experience of posters was in the 2004 local elections. I was 14 years of age. At that stage, my dad had been a councillor for 15 years. I was helping him to put up posters at 7 a.m. He fell off the ladder, broke a rib or two and, a week later, lost his seat to a former Member of this House, former Senator Mark Dearey from Dundalk. That was my first experience with posters. It was not a good one and it was not a good election for my family either, but since then I have come to love posters and see their value in the political system and campaigns.

I commend Senator Pauline O'Reilly on bringing this debate to the House. There are very few issues on which she and I disagree, politically speaking, but this is one of them. As Senator Malcolm Byrne stated, however, this is a very important debate to have. It is what this House should be about. The House is at its very best when we are debating issues of significance on which Members have opposing views but engage in respectful debate. This is very much what this debate is. As so many other speakers have spoken before me, it is difficult to contribute without reiterating some of the main points that have been made. I wish to focus on a few of my key experiences of it.

In 2014, when I first ran for election, I was 22 years of age. I found the ability to put up posters and get my face out there in a wide geographical area of Dundalk-Carlingford, encompassing 40% of Dundalk town and the entire Cooley Peninsula, was very beneficial to me. I found I was not recognised when I called to doors. Why on earth would anyone know a 22-year-old running for election? I had no track record and nobody knew me. I was fresh out of college. I found that the use of posters was a useful way for people to recognise me as John McGahon of Fine Gael, the young fella they saw on the poster. It was a good way for me to introduce myself. That was very useful as a young first-time candidate with no track record.

Fast-forwarding to 2019, I thought it was a bit of a laugh that councillors throughout the country were putting forward motions to county councils to ban posters. The councillors in question were all poll toppers. I can name them. In my county and in other areas, they were poll toppers who were going to get elected anyway. Of course it suited them not to have posters.We can see it everywhere. I am not suggesting this is the case with Senator Pauline O'Reilly's Bill, but two months from local elections, it is easy for any councillor to put down a motion to get rid of posters and get a bit of publicity. It does not matter if the councillor is a poll-topper. He or she will be returned to the council, regardless of whether the motion is passed. That is why I think this debate today is important. It is not opportunistic and just before an election. It is being debated at a proper stage within this Parliament. I think it is a good time to debate the issue. A pet hate of mine is seeing the tags from posters. Perhaps I notice them more when I am driving around because I am in politics. I hate it. When I am up a pole taking posters down, I try to take as many of them down as possible. Another thing that I have learned about posters is that in a general election campaign everybody is very keen to help put them up, but when you lose, you are taking them down on your own. It takes a substantially longer amount of time and perhaps some fines from local authorities to get it done. Everyone is keen to put posters up, but when you lose, you end up taking them down yourself.

Some might argue that we can advertise the modern way, by advertising on Facebook or using geo-targeting. We have to look at the demographics as well. The demographics of Facebook users have shifted significantly. The average age of Facebook users is 40 or 50+. Younger people are using TikTok. The concept of being able to put posters up right across a geographical area allows everybody, regardless of age, to be able to see who the candidates are. I agree with a point that was made previously. It is easy for those of us who live in a political bubble to think that everyone is interested in politics and knows what is going on. The vast majority of people do not care. They only realise an election is happening once they see the posters going up. That triggers them to realise that the election is happening and to look up their local candidates. People become tuned in and turned on to an election when posters go up.

Posters are a fundamental part of our political discourse and campaigning. I believe that they serve a purpose. Another experience I had with posters was when I was at UCD, during student elections. I was not very involved in student union elections. Indeed, I was anti-student union. It was a case of putting up posters on a poster run. The Minister of State and Senator Ward will recall that it was almost as if there was a starting line. There would be 100 people putting up posters and it was carnage. It was organised chaos. Students would run down the concourse in UCD to try to get the best poster spots. All joking aside, I think that posters play a fundamental role in our political campaigns and discourse. I believe that they provide an advantage to newcomer candidates. Removing them gives an unfair advantage to incumbents who already have a substantially high name recognition. I appreciate the debate we are having on this issue. It is an important debate to have. I think there could be a compromise somewhere along the line in the future. Perhaps the compromise could be the introduction of a cap on the number of posters, or restrictions on the areas in which posters can be put up.

Finally, Senator Ward raised a point to which I wish to respond. It has not happened in my area, but I take issue with TidyTowns telling people where they can and cannot put up posters. We are all happy to oblige, help out and follow the rules. However, I would take issue with it if the practice was to become widespread, limiting people across a geographical constituency, when there is no law on the matter. I welcome the debate. It is very good. Perhaps at some stage in the future a compromise will be reached. However, I think posters have a role to play.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator McGahon for his contribution and for the personal anecdotes. I call on the co-sponsor of the Bill, Senator Garvey.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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It is interesting to listen to the debate today. It reminds me of the Bob Dylan song - Senators and congressmen, the times are changing. I know that we have all put up posters. We can say that it is all part of politics until the cows come home. However, things have to change. There are so many reasons this is a most important debate. This Bill should be supported by the House. First, the use of posters gives an unfair advantage to bigger parties. I know that myself from running as a Green Party candidate. Others do not have the money that the big parties have. The smaller parties and independent candidates do not have as much of a chance of getting the posters up, which is unfair in the first place. If we want fairness, we must look at that issue. I grew up in north County Clare. Basically, we thought there was nobody running for elections except Fianna Fáil candidates. Perhaps those living in places such as County Meath only thought there were Fine Gael candidates running.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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They thought that too.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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That did not represent what was actually happening. I wish to make a few points. Senator Ward stated that posters do not get people elected. If they do not, then nobody here should have a problem with us restricting them. The second point is that we are not seeking to ban posters. We are seeking to limit the use of posters to designated areas, which we have seen working all over Europe. It is a bit like the way some schools in Ireland demand that girls wear skirts. Outsiders look at us in Ireland and wonder if we are mad. It is the same with the use of posters. All it is is littering. The posters are litter made from fossil fuels. All plastic is made from fossil fuels. We are using fossil fuels when we should be moving away from using them. We should only be using alternatives in the future. This plastic is used all over the place. I know there are regulations, but they are not adhered to. Senators should not think for a second that because there are regulations, they are adhered to. I grew up with Fianna Fáil always having the best poster spots, so I was determined that if I ever ran for election, I would get my posters up first, with plotted placement and all that. We had it all measured. We put the posters up at the lowest possible height. We were OCD about it. We had the ladders up and put the posters up in exactly the right place. Lo and behold, people who did not get up at the crack of dawn put their posters up over mine, and not one was removed. Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that we have any control over the putting up of posters. Posters are littering our country every four or five years. Their use is backward. People use social media now. It is a joke to think that just because the over 50s are on Facebook we cannot reach the masses. Young people have no interest in posters. I was actually embarrassed putting up posters the last time. Posters only feature the candidate's face. They tell people nothing about the candidate or what he or she stands for. The posters just display the name of the candidate's party. No woman or member of the Green Party has ever been elected in north County Clare. My point is that everything has changed. If we do not make the change now, when are we going to do it? Will we wait until we have run out of fossil fuels to make the plastic posters?

The use of posters is also unfair on new candidates. They do not have the money that people who are already elected have. First of all, those who are elected have a political wage, and in some cases, they have parties helping them with the cost of posters. If we allow posters to go up everywhere, first-time candidates are placed at a disadvantage. I really believe that.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Will the Senator take a question?

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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It is the Senator's time to speak.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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Since I have become a Member of the Seanad, I have realised, like others, that the media and social media dictate what message we get out there. We all know that. A Senator could say ten brilliant things and the media will twist one point, making it seem like the Senator said something he or she did not say at all. It does not make a difference if the Senator explains, because if you explain, you are losing. Social media and the media are running the show. If we save the money we spend on posters, we might have some hope of using it on social media to get the truth of what we are actually trying to say and do, as a Government, across. I feel very strongly about it. The use of posters is a joke. It is so 1980s. It really is. If we need to use posters to get elected in this day and age, there is something wrong with our system. I know some will say we can be for or against the use of posters. I think this is a really important Bill. It is good to have a debate, but we also need support for the Bill. Of course, some will always object to a Bill if it is a Government Bill or a Green Party Bill. That is their prerogative. We can look at other countries, such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Italy and Spain. Foreign friends of mine think the use of posters is mad. We are a laughing stock when it comes to elections and the use of posters. The cable ties are a joke. The photo of candidates looking weird on posters is a joke. Candidates do not look like themselves at all. It is very strange. Some say good-looking people get elected because their good-looking faces are plastered all over the poles.

I think we need to ask a lot of questions. What is the use of posters about? We want to represent the people. I believe that if we asked the people of Ireland tomorrow morning, the vast majority of them would say that they do not want posters. If our job is to represent the people, and the people do not want posters, we should take this Bill seriously and get it over the line. I welcome the support of my colleagues in the Green Party, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and my colleagues in government and opposition. I urge them to take this Bill seriously. I have tried using recycled and biodegradable posters. They do not work. It is a joke. Plastic is evil and we have to move away from using it. We know that it is ruining our oceans and rivers. Now, it is in our stomachs. We must take it seriously. It is a serious issue. Posters are bad, and we need to move away from using them. Politics is a different game now. We all know it. We have the media and social media. Let us not pretend that we need posters anymore. If we do, there is something wrong with our system.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I am pleased to address the Seanad on the Regulation of Display of Electoral and Polling Posters and Other Advertisements Bill 2022. I thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly for bringing the Bill forward. It has been a useful debate.It has been good to have such a debate outside the context of an electoral event. Usually we have these discussions when an electoral event comes up. It is very important to have a discussion now.

At the outset, I will give feedback on some of the contributions that Senators have made. Senator O'Reilly correctly stated that I successfully ran an election campaign in 2020 without election posters, but I would not recommend it. They did not know who I was in some parts of County Carlow. The other point is that there were election posters up all over the place and still people did not know there was an election on. In many ways, it was probably foolhardy to make that decision. My campaign team was a little bit taken aback when I announced it on local radio but I am here and testament to the fact that election campaigns can be successfully ran without posters. Having said that, I was first elected in 2004 and I was therefore well known in the local community, having successfully contested local elections, and also contested by-elections and general elections. There is a distinct disadvantage for new candidates. It is important that Senator O'Reilly's Bill recognises this.

A number of us met representatives of the men's shed movement a number of weeks ago in Buswells Hotel. They were talking about creative uses of election posters. We have seen such uses. Apparently, they are very good for servicing tractors and excellent for henhouses. There are many other very good uses for the repurposing of election posters that we have seen down the years. One Member mentioned that during one electoral event there were 600,000 posters. Senator Garvey mentioned electoral cycles being every four to five years. They are not. They are perhaps every two to three years. With referendums, perhaps a directly elected mayor for Limerick and other electoral events, one could be talking about millions of posters over four or five electoral events. That is really what we are talking about in scale. We are mindful of that significance.

Some very useful points were made by Senators. Senator Keogan referenced the issue of moving beyond a throwaway society. We have to give consideration to this. It is very important.

Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about the role of the electoral commission. I will address that in my closing comments.

I recognise, as Senators Cummins, Moynihan and others have referenced, that posters are part of the paraphernalia of our electoral system. They are part of the panache, fun and messiness of it. I think that is what Senator Moynihan raised. It is exciting to be involved when the election is announced and we get our posters up on our first day. That is quite important. I also recognise that while there are restrictions on postering in other countries such as Greece, as Senator Boyhan has raised, there are also very different electoral systems.

I am conscious of the contributions of Members. It is a very useful debate but, critically, it will provide a further opportunity for Members to input into the electoral commission as well. The commission is best placed for this. The next electoral event might possibly be for the directly elected mayor of Limerick. It is something of which we need to be mindful.

Senator Byrne referenced the issue of fly-posting and random postering. Although these activities are illegal under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, people continue to engage in them. There was a suggestion at one election of using colour-coded cable ties - green for the Green Party, red for the Labour Party, etc. - to give us an idea who owns the cable ties.

It has been a very useful debate. I thank all the Members for their contributions and Senator O'Reilly for bringing the Bill forward. The requirements for election posters are set out in section 19 of the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2009 and the Electoral Act 1992. Posters may only be erected for a certain specified time period before an election. This time period either begins 30 days before the poll date, or on the date the polling day order for the election is made, whichever provides the shorter period of time. Posters must be removed within seven days of polling day. The position on referendums is that posters can be displayed from the date on which the Minister makes the polling day order to appoint the day on which the referendum is being held. Again, referendum posters must be removed within seven days of polling day.

The running of election and referendum communications campaigns has evolved in recent years, with social media increasingly being used to share information on elections and referendums. That has been referenced by a number of Members. While posters continue to remain a central part of communications during election campaigns and referendums, it is important that their utility is examined as we go forward, especially in terms of their impact on the environment and the visual amenity of local areas, in terms of expenditure and, ultimately, in terms of their effectiveness in communicating with the electorate and the public.

Of course, any examination of the issue of election posters must ensure due regard is had to the principle of equality of treatment in electoral practices and respect for voters and candidates. It is for reasons such as this that the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, includes a commitment to examine the use of posters at elections and referendums and to consult on placing limitations on the number of posters utilised. This examination is to be undertaken by the electoral commission which is currently being legislated for by way of the Electoral Reform Bill 2022.

The Electoral Reform Bill 2022 was published in March and is currently progressing through the Oireachtas with Committee Stage due to commence in the Dáil shortly. The Bill will implement the ambitious electoral reform agenda set out in the programme for Government, Our Shared Future. The extensive package of reforms set out in the Bill will address some of the most significant challenges which our electoral system faces today and will create much-needed capacity within our system to anticipate and address new challenges into the future. The Bill contains detailed provisions in respect of four distinct areas.

In the first area, it establishes an electoral commission for Ireland. This independent specialised body will be positioned at the centre of our electoral system to bring a range of existing functions under one roof. It will take responsibility for several new functions which will address emerging opportunities and challenges as our society and electoral environment evolve.

In the second area, the Bill provides the legislative basis for the modernisation of our electoral registration process, which has been referenced by Members this afternoon. It will make registering to vote more accessible and more streamlined by enabling online registration, simplified forms and a continuously updated or rolling register in order that people can update their details at any time.

In the third area, the Bill provides for regulation of online political advertising. The spread of online disinformation in the run-up to electoral events is one of the most serious threats to our electoral system. In response to this threat, the Bill provides for greater transparency in respect of online political advertising during election periods. It will ensure transparency in political advertising and help to protect our electoral processes from hidden interference. These provisions entail bringing the online electoral advertising space into line with our existing regulations around more traditional forms of advertising.

In the fourth area, the Bill includes measures to assist returning officers in running electoral events should public health restrictions be in place due to pandemics such as we have experienced with Covid-19. The Electoral Reform Bill 2022 represents a significant reform of our electoral legislation progress and structures and makes our system more accessible and inclusive.

In addition to these reforms, the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, contains a number of further commitments relating to electoral reform. It is envisaged that these commitments will be advanced with appropriate input from the electoral commission when established. One such commitment, which is of relevance to this debate, is the commitment relating to election posters. The programme for Government provides that the electoral commission will be tasked with:

[examining] the issue of the use of posters at elections and referendums within 12 months of its establishment, and consult on placing limitations on the number of posters that can be used or fixing certain locations for their use. The Government will legislate for its recommendations in advance of the 2024 Local Elections.

It is envisaged that upon its establishment, the electoral commission will undertake an examination of the use of posters at elections and referendums. The Private Members' Bill before us today can be considered along with any recommendations that the commission may make. This approach will allow for a comprehensive consideration of the matter. It will allow the electoral commission to undertake research and consultation as necessary which will robustly inform the development of any legislative changes in this area. In light of this commitment, it would be premature to legislate without allowing the electoral commission to carry out this examination. It would be prudent to allow the electoral commission to undertake this work in advance.

There is another issue of a more technical nature in this Bill to which I wish to draw the Members' attention. Sections 3 and 4 of the Bill propose to amend the Electoral (Polling Schemes) Regulations 2021 and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001. Essentially, these provisions are using primary legislation to amend secondary legislation. This approach would require further detailed consideration in the course of the drafting. As a result of the foregoing, especially the extensive electoral reform programme I am currently advancing, we should wait until the electoral commission has made recommendations on the issue. This work by the commission will add considerable value to any proposals on this matter and will facilitate appropriate research and consultation among relevant parties.In summary, I thank Senator Pauline O'Reilly for bringing the Bill forward. Members will agree that there has been a very useful debate and a broader debate which we have to consider, not just around postering, but its wider context on our political system. This is around the use of precious resources for political parties and candidates on broader issues in informing the electorate and in looking at the transformational changes that are taking place in communications and media over recent years. In that sense, it has been very useful to discuss this Bill and in listening to the contributions of the Members we have had both support and opposition to the Bill. Some would prefer to continue the business as usual of using posters with limited regulation or intervention. It is important in our electoral system. This was alluded to by Senator Pauline O’Reilly in her opening comments, where we really want to use the commission to attract new people into politics. We want that research and advocacy function to encourage people to get involved in our electoral and political system so that our council, Dáil and Seanad Chambers are more reflective of the people that are living here also. That is a very important part of it.

Cost is sometimes a prohibitive factor and it is something that we are all cognisant of when we are filling out our Standards In Public Office Commission forms at the end of an election because the posters, for me, were by far the biggest outlay that I had in previous elections. When I look back at my posters from 2004 and how I look now, one can see what politics does to a candidate. That particular part of it gives us a very exciting opportunity, with the commission, to greatly transform our political and democratic system in Ireland. I, for one, am very excited by that prospect and what it could mean for the electoral system.

I welcome the discussion, contributions and proposals from Members. Senator Pauline O’Reilly’s Bill will be given consideration as the commission moves to give a broader appraisal of the limitation of election posters. I thank the Senator again for bringing this legislation forward. It is a great privilege to be able to speak on it, and I thank all Members for their contributions.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister of State for his words and my thanks to everybody who has engaged in this debate.

I welcome that the Minister of State will encourage the commission to look at this Bill as part of its work because significant work has been put into it. I have heard many of the arguments that have been made here. My one comment is that when it comes to the place of posters in the democratic process, perhaps that is part of the problem. What type of democracy do we want? Do we want democracy which is based on people’s faces, with nothing else behind which person is most popular, who has the most money, who gets their face out there the most, and is the one who is elected? That is what we have.

Does this affect the quality of our democracy? It does affect the quality of our democracy. That is why it is key to look at designated areas where people are forced to say what it is they stand for. I would disagree with Senator Moynihan to the extent that I do not think democracy at the moment is fun. It is very boring when I go through the streets and I just see face after face. I could not say what those people stand for. I am fairly new to politics and came to it fairly late in life and I would not have had a clue when going in to vote. I always voted but I never knew what any of the candidates stood for. I was doing other things in my community which were valuable and more important to me. I voted based on party and always voted Green but there are many people who want to know what that is and what the manifesto behind that is. I would not have known who to vote for as a number two and number three preference. This is not aiding us.

I have used posters and I return to the points made by Senators McGahon and Ward, who both mentioned Tidy Towns. There are 152 areas in Ireland that prohibited posters in 2019. That is happening, with or without us. It greatly impacts on the people who are running for election in those areas. This is one's local area, it is stopping one from putting up posters and yet one is a first-time candidate. Do we think that that does not have an impact? It does. We cannot stop that, nor should we, because that is what the people want. We have to find some way of regulating it that puts everybody on a level playing field because it is not fair, in any event.

If one is a newcomer, one absolutely, 100%, has to use posters. I am glad that the Minister of State has admitted how difficult it was because there would have been some members of the Green Party would have said that here is Malcolm Noonan not putting up posters and putting us all under pressure. It is very difficult to get over the line as a first-time candidate.

I argue that if the incumbents and newcomers had to drop all of their posters, it would bring a level playing field closer. It does not close the gap but incumbents already have a significant advantage on newcomers because they are putting up the posters and they are known. As a newcomer when putting up posters, one becomes known in a small way. This would encourage all of us to become a great deal more creative if we took a step back and said that this is not what elections or politics are about. Politics is actually about representing people properly. I go back to the statistics that I raised earlier which state that the majority of people do not want posters and do not notice what is behind that poster. We are not, in fact, doing a service. Of course, the people inside this Chamber love posters and the razzmatazz because they love elections but the majority of people out there are not similarly engaged.

I have come from other elections in other countries where they have posters. I was in Hungary for the recent election there, doing election observation, and there were posters. I was in an area of a city in Hungary comprised entirely of the Romany community and the turnout was very low. We waited there for 40 minutes and only one person came in to vote in that period of time. Posters were up but they were not engaging people or reaching out across the divide and closing that social barrier. It was doing none of that. A great deal more has to happen in order for us to close that divide.

That is why the electoral commission is critical and is a critical part of what happens in government. I do not want that this important issue in respect of the environment is also forgotten about and that we somehow say that this is the essential thing in promoting democracy, which is that we just throw up posters everywhere. No, it is not. The two things need to happen together and we need to take our responsibility as climate leaders seriously now. We have a responsibility. Yes, it was the Green Party in previous elections that went to the doors and we were kicked as to why we had posters up. Our reply was that it was because Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have them up so I will otherwise stand no chance. All parties are going to be asked those questions as to why they are putting up posters in the coming years because people care about the environment and are sick of it. They do not think this is representing their views properly. I thank the Acting Chairman.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 6.28 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 7 p.m. Sitting suspended at 6.28 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.