Two weeks ago, Galway City Councillors voted on a voluntary ‘ban’ on election posters in the city in the run-up to the Volvo Ocean Race.
This ‘ban’ is pointless for a number of reasons. While I have no doubt it was a well-intentioned proposal from ‘King’ of Knocknacarra, Donal Lyons, it is entirely impractical and largely for show.
Firstly, the ban only works to the benefit of well-known sitting councillors. Not everybody likes to drive to work with grinning mug shots staring at them from every lamppost and electricity pole, but how else are candidates supposed to become familiar faces?
Any candidate worth their salt is canvassing already and will probably have been to many homes in their area. Some candidates will visit each home twice or even three times in the run-up to the election, and thus should be familiar to many householders. However, that includes just one person in each home, many of which could house four or five voters, and depends on them being home at the time (and answering the door).
Some candidates (mainly sitting councillors) have good media profiles because they know what makes a story. But even if you have met a candidate already, has their face remained in your mind, and does it match their name?
Posters are a proven electoral benefit to candidates and only someone whose seat is completely safe or who did not really want to get elected would voluntarily give up a key electioneering tool. Environmental concerns are well and good, but as Cllr Catherine Connolly pointed out, democracy is not, and cannot be considered, litter. Besides, posters must be taken down within a specified time limit after elections, or candidates are fined.
In every market there is a dominant product and often that product does far less advertising than its rivals. Why? Because people buy a familiar, well-known product. And, where those products are people, they know that. Hence the support of longer-serving councillors with formidable machines for this ban.
For those who have stood against it as the pointless PR exercise it is, fair play. They will respect the VOR route and that is all that’s required. But, as Catherine Connolly pointed out, democracy is not the same as litter. Maybe it’s time we stopped treating it that way.