Election historian unapologetic in his defence of posters

Posters are an important part of our electoral and democratic process, says Kinsella

 

Alan Kinsella began collecting political posters during the 1982 general election, encouraged by a hand-written note from Labour’s Barry Desmond. Nearly four decades on, he is Ireland’s unofficial election historian and archivist.

This week, he looked on as members of the Dalkey Tidy Towns Committee warned that they would remove legally erected posters if they were put in the idyllic, and leafy south County Dublin village.

The group later withdrew the threat, saying it was a misunderstanding. Questioned about the dislike expressed by so many in Dalkey and elsewhere towards posters, Mr Kinsella is unapologetic in his defence of political postering.

“You might find these are the same people who complain they never see their politicians,” he said, “I think they’re an important part of our electoral and democratic process.

“They’re also incredibly important for first time candidates. The lampposts are a level playing field,” said Mr Kinsella, whose collection includes examples dating back a century.

First time candidate Hazel Chu, who is standing for the Green Party in the Pembroke Ward of Dublin City Council, agreed on the importance of postering for new candidates, but admitted to being slightly conflicted.

The Green Party has sought poster bans in several local authority areas, all of which were voted down. She is supportive of a ban, but will put up posters until a ban is in place for all candidates.

She said she and her team would put up about 300-350 posters – “they’re not all up yet!” – on lampposts and in the gardens of willing supporters. They cost €5 each, with cable ties extra.

“They’re not a substitute for canvassing. But you need to put your face before people,” Ms Chu said. She cited her marketing background: “The reason we put billboards before people is that it works.”

Effective laws

The big parties are dismissive of suggestions that posters should be banned from lampposts for the few weeks of an election campaign.

Ireland has some of the most effective laws for limiting campaign expenditure in the western world,” said a senior Fianna Fáil figure.

“There are very few ways of building awareness if you are a candidate, especially if you are a new candidate. Leaflets are expensive. Local newspaper ads aren’t as important as they used to be. Posters work, you can show people what you look like and who you’re standing for.

Alan Kinsella at the exhibition Irish Political Ephemera, at the National Print Museum, Beggars Bush, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Alan Kinsella at the exhibition Irish Political Ephemera, at the National Print Museum, Beggars Bush, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

“Thirty years ago, people used to put them on traffic lights and covering signs, and left them up for weeks. Now they have them down a few days after the election. It’s much more tightly controlled. I mean, how much of a problem is this really?”

The sentiments are echoed by a senior Fine Gael source. “Face recognition is important, especially for new candidates. We leave it up to them, really. They can use a party template. But if they want to go ahead themselves, off with them.”

According to Alan Kinsella: “They’re very important, I think. They tell people there’s an election on. Not everyone knows, you know.”