How to solve a problem like election posters

A discussion has broken out in the South about the erection of election posters in Dalkey, after Dalkey Tidy Towns had declared a no go area for them and warned that any such posters put up in the area would be “removed and destroyed.” This seems to be part of the wider Poster Free campaign which claims to have signed up over 160 “towns/areas” to having no plastic election posters through campaigns run by a number of TidyTowns organisations, but how enforceable these proposals are remains to be seen. Much will depend on the quality of engagement, if indeed any has taken place, with political parties centrally and candidates locally.

Election law in the South is very clear about when election posters can be erected and when they have to be removed by, with guidance from the Department of Communications, Climate action and Environment stating:

“Posters may only be erected for a certain specified time period before an election. This time period is either (a) 30 days before the poll date or (b) from the date the polling day order for the election has been made, whichever provides the shorter period of time.

Posters must be removed within 7 days of polling day. These requirements for election posters are set out under section 19 of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2009.

The European Parliament Elections Order 2019 and the Local Elections Order 2019 were signed on 25 March 2019 and fixed the polling day for both elections on 24 May 2019. Therefore the 30 day period applies. Posters can be erected in this case from 24 April 2019.

There is a requirement for candidates to remove all posters including any cable ties within 7 days of the poll. Failure to comply with these conditions constitutes an offence.”

In Northern Ireland the law is not as clear, as advice from the Electoral Office (pp.20) states that:

“The law relating to the display and removal of election posters is the Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015. As a candidate you must ensure that you comply with any planning rules relating to the display of election posters. You must also ensure that any posters are removed within two weeks of polling day. If you have any queries relating to these issues you should contact the Local Planning Office in the Local Council.”

The specific legislation states:

As part of the online conversation about poster free elections there have been suggestions that there should be a local agreement not to use election posters. Whilst it initially appears to have merit, the counter-argument is that smaller parties and independents need the exposure and name recognition that posters give them, and by banning them the established parties are simply consolidating their position. There is also a school of thought that towns and villages could have designated areas where posters can be displayed and strict enforcement if they appear beyond those boundaries. In the South posters must not be displayed within 50 metres of a polling station, with this restriction coming into place 30 minutes before the polls open, and contravention of this requirement could result in a prison sentence of up to two years.

It seems that there needs to be a wider discussion about the role of election posters as part of the democratic process but conversations like this need to involve political parties, the local community and the statutory authorities. Solutions will never come about if one group tries to impose its will on candidates and parties. These conversations will need to happen after the ballots are counted and not in the midst of local and European election campaigns, but if someone doesn’t start this discussion soon, we will be doomed to repeat this conversation ad nauseam during every election campaign. And we all know we have more than our fair share of them!