PORTLAOISE is set to be a poster-free zone during next year’s local elections.
Councillors in Portlaoise Municipal District have agreed not to use posters during the 2019 campaign. The district takes in not only Portlaoise but also areas such as Ballyroan, Ballinakill and Abbeyleix.
The ‘ban’ on posters cannot be legally enforced and there is nothing to prevent new candidates using them. But one councillor commented that anyone who erected a poster would be committing “political suicide”.
The decision not to allow posters in the run-up to the local elections next May follows a proposal by cllr Noel Tuohy at the latest meeting of Portlaoise Municipal District. He described political posters as “a throwback to a different era” that should be consigned to “the scrapheap of history”.
Reading from a prepared statement, cllr Tuohy said: “Posters come from a political era when there was only one TV station and one radio station and when Gay Byrne was the voice and conscience of the public mood. There were no mobile phones, no internet, no social media, no online platforms, and in order to get the GAA, soccer or rugby fixtures, you had to go out and buy the local paper. Times have changed and so must we.”
The Labour party councillor asked the council to recommend a no-poster policy not only during the local elections but also the next general election, whenever it is called.
Cllr Tuohy said the move would also play a small part for the environment, as he called on all public representatives to lead by example, rather than pay lip service on climate change and threats to nature and biodiversity. He commented: “Banning election posters won’t save the planet, but it will help.”
The proposal got strong support from fellow councillors. Seconding the motion, Portlaoise Municipal Council cathaoirleach Catherine Fitzgerald said a huge majority at a recent Public Participation Network (PPN) meeting was against the use of posters, particularly inside 50kph speed limit areas.
She said: “We have to respect the views of these community groups.”
Cllr Fitzgerald acknowledged that new election candidates with less familiar faces could be at a disadvantage if posters were banned. However, she recalled that there was “a lot of skulduggery” during the 2014 local elections, when some posters were burned or removed.
Cllr Willie Aird jokingly asked cllr Fitzgerald: “Would the poster ban include your own one on that trailer that is moveable, because I get to look at it every morning?”
Cllr Aird added that the ban should apply both inside and outside 50kph speed limit areas, as election posters would “absolutely pollute the countryside”.
Cllr John Joe Fennelly pointed out that a poster ban is already in operation in Abbeyleix, where a Tidy Towns survey found that 80% of people were against the use of posters within the 50kph area.
Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley said she had no issue with the proposal as long as everyone agreed to it. However, the ban could not be enforced for new candidates, who would have a legal right to put up posters and Laois County Council would not have the authority to remove them.
Cllr Tuohy responded that if everyone agreed to the ban, any candidate who decided to erect a poster would be committing political suicide.
Cllr Fitzgerald agreed and said it would be up to all candidates to honour the will of the people.
Council director of services Kieran Kehoe explained that the legislation allows for election posters during a particular timeframe before and after the election date, so the council cannot enforce a ban at present. However, he said a ban could be written into the by-laws if councillors wished, which would be enforceable.
Mr Kehoe told the meeting that if any town or village wants to impose a no-poster policy, it should be requested by the area’s Tidy Towns committee, but compliance would be up to the candidates.
He recalled: “Portarlington Tidy Towns introduced a no-poster policy during the last local elections and only one poster went up, so it was adhered to.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to a no-poster policy throughout Portlaoise Municipal District during the 2019 local elections, including a provision that all new candidates be informed of the policy.