Thursday, 5 February 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
8. Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if and when he will introduce regulations in regard to election postering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3906/09]
218. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will introduce legislation to control the number, size and locations of posters for the upcoming local and European elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4064/09]
I held a public consultation regarding the control of postering for elections and referenda in autumn 2008. Following the analysis of submissions received by my Department, I informed the Government on 27 January that I intend to pilot test certain measures in the upcoming local and European elections to evaluate their impact on the proliferation of posters and the litter arising during those election campaigns. Local authorities are being asked to pilot four options in a number of local authority areas; the use of biodegradable plastic ties or colour coding of plastic ties; the display of posters to be restricted to designated areas only; the numbers of posters per candidate to be restricted; and the numbers of posters to be restricted to two per pole, back to back.
The pilot scheme will be evaluated following completion with a view to informing future policy development regarding the control of postering for elections and referenda. It is important that potential problems relating to implementation or enforcement of the measures are identified prior to legislation being introduced to ensure that the final legislation is as effective as possible. I will ask all candidates, local and European, in each of the participating areas to participate in the scheme in order that it is as comprehensive and representative as possible. I am also reviewing the litter legislation to ensure there is absolutely no doubt that posters cannot be erected before an election has been called and I will bring forward an amendment if necessary.
Deputy John Gormley: In consultation with local authorities, I am asking them to examine the various options I outlined. They can pick from these options to ascertain which ones are most appropriate to their area and I hope most of them will buy into this. I will meet managers and representative bodies of councillors, which is most important because we must have political buy in, and ask them which option is most appropriate for the upcoming local elections.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I thank the Minister for his explanation. As somebody who made a submission to the commission on this, I am glad the issue has progressed. I expected a response on how the report was proceeding. Will the Minister issue a brief to the Opposition spokespersons outlining what he has stated because it is of significance? Posters play a positive role in election campaigns.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I worked as an adult literacy organiser prior to my election to the House and I was involved in the campaign to ensure candidate’s photographs were printed on ballot papers. Posters operate in a similar fashion, particularly in local elections. They allow people to discriminate between one side of the road and the other regarding their local candidate. Posters are an informative and valuable tool for local democracy. Following the pilot scheme, will legislation be in place to govern postering during the upcoming local elections?  Will local authorities opt in and out? Is there the potential that one local authority will be operating one system and another operating another one? A key part of my submission is that we need a national system and not a localised one.
Deputy John Gormley: I agree with many of the points made by the Deputy on the role of posters. They are essential. It was never my intention to ban postering. The intention was to introduce some form of regulation so that we would not have the somewhat chaotic postering we have. It is getting worse with successive elections. We received 117 submissions, including that of the Deputy. Many referred to the plastic tag issue. We are trying to deal with that. Deputy Hogan referred to litter previously. Having a proliferation of plastic tags is a serious litter problem and we want to try to deal with that. We do not want to restrict public speech or people’s right to expression. That is not what this is about. However, I have seen candidates putting four or five posters on a pole, which is excessive.
We have come up with a reasonable approach having considered all the submissions made. In my reply I said we would not introduce legislation until we have an idea of what is workable, which is a good approach. In the past local authorities have introduced their own pilot schemes with buy-in from councillors. Residents’ associations have asked candidates not to put their posters in particular areas. On the whole we have had the co-operation of the council and councillors.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I urge the Minister to show some common sense on the issue of postering particularly for smaller parties, and Independent Deputies and councillors, as we approach local elections. Posters are very much a part of local democracy in this country.
Regarding the tags, after the last general election we bought a number of tree pruning shears. My election workers cut down the tags and took them away to be recycled. There are many common sense candidates and people involved in politics who took away their own litter. I urge the Minister to take on board these proposals. Posters form a very important part of any democratic campaign.
Deputy John Gormley: At the risk of repeating myself, we are taking a common sense approach. It is not restricting freedom of expression or unduly restricting postering. What may restrict postering is——
Deputy John Gormley: Precisely. That will have its own effect because postering is quite expensive. I understand that some parties have already printed their posters — including some in Northern Ireland, but we will not go there. I understand that people need to make preparations. The sort of dialogue we are engaged in with the local authorities will ensure that a common sense approach is adopted.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The Minister is wasting his time on this matter. It is playing up to some kind of prim political correctness. It is pandering to people who treat democracy and elections as if they are some kind of untidy intrusion on their lives. Deputies McGrath and Ciarán Lynch are correct. Postering is a cheap way to promote democracy. It is fine for those who can afford to pay for billboards and bus shelters. However, restricting the number of posters will impact most on people with the least money to spend on elections — smaller parties and Independents. I do not know why the Minister is spending time on this and going to the trouble of having pilot schemes. We put up posters for the duration of the election campaign and then ensure we take them down.
Deputy John Gormley: If they are repeated ad nauseam they can become tedious. I have said a common sense approach is being adopted. This measure is not restricting postering. Deputy Tuffy’s colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, made a submission on the matter, which indicates his interest in it. The restriction will come from the restriction on spending. My party has never had a billboard as far as I know. We do not have the resources to engage in lavish spending. In fact we have the lowest spending of any political party. I understand the necessity of getting out cheap advertising. I also understand the necessity of dealing with the litter problem, which is what we are trying to do. We are getting a sensible compromise through the measures we are adopting.
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