Dáil Éireann - Volume 568 - 17 June, 2003

Priority Questions. - Election Posters.

  77. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is considering changes to the Electoral Act 1997; if he will consider a ban on election posters except in designated locations; his views on whether such a ban will greatly reduce wasteful expenditure and visual pollution during election campaigns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16920/03]

  Mr. Gallagher: I thank Deputy Allen and Deputy Gilmore for their kind, generous and sincere good wishes to the Minister, Deputy Cullen, which will be passed to him.

  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated his intention to undertake a comprehensive review of the Electoral Act 1997. The Act's provisions have now been used at all elections covered by it, including the general election in May 2002. The time is therefore right to review these provisions in light of the experience gained at the various elections. In addition, since its enactment the 1997 Act has been amended a number of times to deal with technical and other matters.

[1043]  The Minister has asked the chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission for a report on the commission's views on the operation of the Act's provisions at the general election. He will also have regard to the contents of the commission's report on election expenditure at the 2002 general election, which was published last week. The Electoral Act 1992 provides for a prohibition on the display or distribution of any notice, sign, poster, card, circular or other document relating to the election, except for official notices from the returning officer, within 50 metres of a polling station. There are no proposals for a further ban on election posters but my Department will listen to any views in this regard.

  It is the duty of political parties and others involved in elections and referendums to comply with the litter legislation, which is primarily enforced by local authorities. My Department has reminded local authorities and political parties regularly of the relevant provisions of litter legislation in the context of elections, particularly the requirements in the Litter Pollution Act 1997 to remove posters and poster ties within seven days of polling.

  Mr. Sargent: On behalf of the Green Party, I extend best wishes to the Minister, Deputy Cullen. Go raibh biseach air go luath. Has the Minister of State taken into account that this question is motivated not just by the support of the Green Party for the retention of the ceiling on election spending – it is quite generous and should not be extended any further – but its support for any measures that would reduce waste and littering during an election? Is the Minister of State aware that it has been found in other countries that a difference can be made by providing designated crossroads or town squares with display areas – enough of them that it is clear there is an election going on? Will the Minister examine this? In doing so, will he take into account that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 is not working? Poles are festooned with ties from one election to the next. There is clearly a need to take action to deal with this. Health and safety also needs to be taken into account, given the number of posters that have fallen on people and caused injury, which, luckily, has not been serious.

  Mr. Gallagher: There are many views on the problem of election posters. Some suggest that there should be a ban, but this would be impossible to police. I accept Deputy Sargent's suggestion about designated areas, but this could lead to other problems – planning permission would be needed, and somebody would have to decide how much time would be required. We could be talking about only a number of days. Each party should act responsibly – a reasonable number of posters should be erected at any time. That is a major responsibility for ourselves as candidates [1044]and for the parties. Without giving any definite commitment to the Deputy, I will say that anything is worth considering to try to improve the situation. I will consider any suggestions I receive.

  The Deputy is absolutely right about poster ties. The problem is that when the posters are taken down the ties are not removed and it is hard to identify who owns the ties. One possibility is to have ties of a different colour for each party, but that could be difficult as well. On assuming the office with responsibility for the Litter Pollution Act, I instructed officials to write to the various county managers and the local authorities, who have responsibility for implementing the Litter Pollution Act, with a view to ensuring that all the posters and ties be removed. I cannot argue with the Deputy, however; there is a serious problem, and I will look at it very closely with the officials. I only wish I knew the answer, but it is difficult to establish who is responsible for the purpose of an on-the-spot fine. A number of candidates, in both the European and general elections, had to pay on-the-spot fines, but I doubt that anyone was taken to court. It may come to that if we want to impress upon everybody that they have a serious responsibility in this regard.

  Mr. Sargent: I compliment the Minister of State on his idea of having a different coloured tie for each party. That is one suggestion. Has anybody been fined because of poster ties? I doubt that any party has been fined because of this, although fines may have been issued because of posters. I ask the Minister of State to take account of the failure of the Act in that regard. We need to ensure that the ties are not left up – it increases the cynicism with which people view politics when they see the ties and then hear people talking about litter.

  Mr. Gallagher: I do not believe anybody has been fined because of poster ties because it would be impossible to identify the owner of any tie. In relation to on-the-spot fines, the litter enforcement statistics from 1997 to 2002 are very general – I do not have any break down indicating which pertain to election posters or ties.