Barry Murphy is proud of the awards that Raheny has won in past Tidy Towns competitions.
“We’ve won a bronze medal for the past four years,” says Murphy, coordinator of Raheny Business Association.
This year, he wants the village centre to go for gold.
But he’s worried that the big grinning faces of this year’s local and European election candidates are going to ruin that.
The May elections coincide with the start of the judging for the Tidy Towns. That’s why they’re looking to ban posters from the village centre, says Murphy.
There’s some debate among Dublin city councillors, though, about whether this would be unfair to newer aspiring councillors, and to residents who want to make sure they recognise their candidates.
Or whether – for wider environmental reasons, too – banning posters is a sacrifice worth making.
“From the Sinn Féin point of view, there will be no posters in the village,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Ciaran O’Moore.
He is one of those pushing for poster-free elections in that part of town – and for other Tidy Towns and community groups in the Clontarf local electoral area to back the move.
They still have to get other politicians and parties to agree too, says O’Moore.
It’s to stop village centres becoming unsightly and cluttered with election posters, he says. But he faces opposition.
“I don’t believe one area should be making up rules, which is different for one area than another area,” says Labour Party Councillor Brendan Carr.
Sense of Familiarity
“For the care of the village I think it’d be great,” says Aidan Fitzsimons of Raheny Carpets, last Friday just before lunchtime.
He says there is talk of 39 candidates running in the two local electoral wards of Donaghmede and Clontarf around Raheny, as well as the European elections, and if they all put up posters, it would be “just be awful looking”.
A few doors down from the carpet shop on Raheny’s Main Street, Gillian Smyth and Gillian Kellett are chatting behind the counter of Bread Naturally.
Pastries sit in baskets on the counter. Behind them, wooden shelves are empty, suggesting that it’s been a busy morning in the bakery.
“It’d put me off voting for them,” says Smyth, “if they’re too messy.”
“I’d take that stance too,” says Kellett.
Bakery owner Simon May has just come in. He wraps a baker’s apron around his waist.
He’s not a fan of election posters either, says May.
He’d like to see a competition on who can deface the posters the best, he says, with a wry smile.
Opinions start to change when Mary Bailey enters the shop for a loaf of bread.
It’s ridiculous to ban posters from the village centres, she says. “We all need to know what’s going on.”
Baily’s retired and lives alone, she says. The posters mean she is familiar with candidates – and more likely to answer the door when they knock.
As she sees it, it would be undemocratic to ban them from the centres of the towns and villages. People stop and chat there. The two Gillians agree.
Then there’s the problem of deciding exactly where the edge of the village or town centre is.
This can quickly make things messy, says Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muiri.
“How do you define a village? It can get tricky very quickly,” he says.
Candidates rely heavily on postering during elections for a reason, says Labour’s Carr.
“What it does do is gives you a sense of familiarity,” he says. “People will be more susceptible to talking to you.”
That’s one reason posters are key for new candidates, says Carr. They let people know who you are.
“It’s a huge advantage for established politicians and the bigger parties to be able to do away with posters,” says Carr. “Because they have their names out there.”
It wasn’t until the 2002 general election that plastic posters with the big grinning faces of candidates became widespread, says Alan Kinsella, an avid collector of election memorabilia and owner of the Irish Election Literature website.
They could be made bigger than the old-style cardboard posters, Kinsella says.
“I think also their popularity increased with the advent of the candidate’s picture appearing on a ballot paper,” says Kinsella, which came about in 2001.
A Second Life?
The idea of banning election posters from town centres is being pushed, firstly, by local Tidy Towns committees, says Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne.
Secondly, says Byrne, it is “coming from a place of environmental awareness”.
Byrne supports a ban on posters outside of special areas. She put forward a motion in June 2018 to bring that in – but most councillors didn’t back it.
Her party colleague Grace O’Sullivan put down a motion in the Seanad to ban them. “But it wasn’t even taken for debate,” says Byrne.
“Until we get a level playing field, it’s incredibly disadvantageous for smaller parties and independent candidates,” says Byrne.
Carr says posters aren’t usually single-use. “A lot of candidates will store the poster and use them again. I often say it’s like Dorian Gray in reverse.”
Election posters have found second lives in everything from being reused for music festivals, says Byrne, to plant bedding at St Anne’s Park, say O’Moore.
Seamus Maguire, an independent councillor with Donegal County Council – who is involved in the Poster-Free Ireland campaign – says that’s “a complete whitewash – well, greenwash”.
Plastic election posters are thought to take 400 years to biodegrade, he says. “I haven’t met a candidate yet that’s 400 years old that keeps reusing their poster for 400 years,” Maguire says.
“I would challenge any candidate that says they recycle any single-use plastic. The only place you recycle a single-use plastic is in a landfill,” he says.
There are other ways to put faces and messages out there, he says: newspapers, social media, radio.
It’s time for councillors to practise what they preach, he says. And be “a bit bloody innovative on this”.