It’s officially election time, which means that it’s officially time for the airwaves to be filled with people complaining about election posters, and officially time for some candidate who doesn’t need election posters to announce that he or she will not actually use election posters. First out of the blocks in 2020 is a former minister with a very safe seat:

“Former Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten TD has confirmed that he will contest the general election without the use of posters.

He stated: “During my time as Minister for the Environment I led a number of initiatives to eliminate single use plastics, and I have decided that during the general election campaign of 2020 I will not use posters as a practical acknowledgement of the environmental situation we are in at present.

“We are in situation where there is far too much plastic being generated, which is having both a climate and environmental impact in our country and in our marine environment. This was again brought home to me by young people at the young scientist exhibition in the RDS this week.

“I want to make a clear statement of intent in relation to my determination to try and reduce the amount of plastic being generated rather than just soundbites. I also believe after seeing the proliferation of posters – particularly by European candidates during the election campaign last summer – that they are a blight on communities right across the country.”

As “blights on communities across the country go”, election posters can’t rank that high, can they? Crime, Homelessness, hospital overcrowding, unemployment, and election posters – the five things destroying our communities. It’s a load of nonsense.

Nonetheless, the airwaves will shortly be full of people complaining about posters, as happens in every election. Part of this is because its easy election content for radio stations. But part of it is because we are a deeply intolerant people in some respects, and complaining is great fun. Part of it also is party political – nobody has ever, in the history of Irish elections, phoned into a radio show to complain about a flying poster from a candidate or party they support. It’s always the other guy, isn’t it?

Ireland is a relatively unusual country by international standards in that you can go in to your local radio station and buy an advert for just about anything, which will then be broadcast to tens of thousands of people, but you cannot advertise an election candidate.

If you are somebody like Denis Naughten, who has been a TD for years, and a regular poll-topper, then everybody likely knows who you are already. If you are Joe Bloggs, a local independent candidate standing for the first time, it is very likely that few people outside of your family and friends will know who you are.

Candidates who want people to vote for them need to make sure that voters know who they are. The law that we have basically prevents any normal, efficient way for candidates to promote themselves to voters. Election posters are the only basically effective tool at their disposal.

But leave candidates out of it for the moment, what about the rest of us? Election posters don’t just tell us who the candidates are. They also make the choices clear to us, and give us a chance to consider options that we may not have otherwise known about. For smaller parties, like Aontu or the Social Democrats, who cannot expect to benefit from extensive media coverage in the election, posters are often the first time a voter will encounter them.

Posters get conversations started. A good poster will generate interest and catch the eye, and get people asking questions about the candidate. Most Irish constituencies have 50,000 potential voters – there is basically no way for a smaller party, or even most of the larger parties, to contact every voter individually over the three weeks of the campaign. Without posters, many voters simply wouldn’t know who the candidates were, or what they stood for.

Posters are recyclable, and usually recycled. The environmental impact is negligible.

Here’s the other thing, though: Putting up posters and taking them down again is very hard work, and it is nearly always done by volunteers, who will give up their time and effort to go out in the cold and the rain this weekend to promote their candidate. And when their candidate loses, as most will, they will go out in the cold and the rain to take them all down again.

So before you text Joe Duffy to complain about election posters, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What alternative method of candidate promotion do you support? Should they be allowed to run radio ads, for example?
  • How many people are actually hurt by election posters? What is the actual harm, beyond “I don’t like the sight of them on the polls”? They’ll be gone in three weeks. Suck it up.
  • Right now, before the posters have gone up, and without googling, can you name all the candidates in your constituency?

If the answer to the last question is “no” – and be honest, it absolutely is – then maybe you might understand why posters are necessary, and why your complaints about them are utterly petty.

Democracy is messy. Posters help make your choices clear. Live with them, for a couple of weeks, and the lampposts will be clear again.