Miriam Lord: Camera-shy Shane Ross’s plea for poster ban is binned

The minister for self-effacement asked rivals this week to consider going green

Shane Ross: Poster boy for poster-free elections. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Winston Churchtown is turning green at the thought of his face staring down from lamp posts at voters in the general election.

Now he knows how his constituents in Dublin Rathdown feel.

To be fair to Winston, aka Minister for Transport Shane Ross, he isn’t very keen on publicity. He’s not one for elbowing himself into situations where he might accidentally wander into somebody else’s photo opportunity. In fact, he is known to be notoriously camera shy.

Everybody knows that. Just ask Katie Taylor.


Winston is all set to run again in the next election. The Independent Alliance’s leading light, who celebrated his 70th birthday in July, is well into the planning stage. He sent a letter to rival candidates this week asking them to consider going green by “engaging in a poster-free campaign”.

This would be “very beneficial to the environment”.

He writes: “As we all know, the amount of posters generated by each candidate in a general election is excessive and wasteful, not to mention an eyesore on our streets. Most importantly, election posters in their current form are made from a single-use plastic, which is believed to take up to 400 years to biodegrade. Usually after an election, all posters will be sent to landfill.

“As candidates in the Dublin Rathdown constituency, I would like us all to consider undertaking a more sustainable campaign for the next general election, preferably going poster-free or, if not, using recycled posters from the last election.

“I look forward to hearing your views on this at your earliest convenience.”

Fine Gael eager beaver, Senator Neale Richmond, whose face has hardly been off television as one of the Government’s main Brexit talking heads, replied as early as he could.

“Many thanks for your letter and interesting suggestion,” he wrote. “I fully intend to use posters in the upcoming general election,” he declared, adding that he reused and recycled whenever possible.

“Election posters are an integral part of our democratic tradition, the importance of which go far beyond winning votes. Academic research in the UK has clearly shown that election poster bans both depress voter turnout and give incumbents an unfair advantage. Given your enthusiastic use of posters in the past two general elections, for public meetings and by your endorsed local election candidates, I am sure you are aware of these factors.”

This will be disappointing for Winston, who is entering a quiet phase now and does not want to be overexposed. He will have to put up posters of his smiling face all over the constituency, albeit reluctantly.

No doubt the voters will be delighted to gaze upon their shrinking violet. Again.

Clocking-in anniversary

It’s been 10 years since the idea of TDs clocking in was first mooted. It didn’t go down well at the time.

The Irish Times reported in July 2009 that plans to change the expenses regime alongside demands that they sign a daily attendance record sparked “a wave of fury” among government TDs. The late Brian Lenihan, then minister for finance, was forced to hold a meeting with “concerned” Fianna Fáil backbenchers in an effort to calm them down.

“They’ll want to fingerprint us next,” fumed one TD. “We are members of parliament, not some factory workers,” whinged another.

But matters settled down and nothing happened until the following March, when the controversial “fobbing” system was introduced at very short notice. Rural TDs were particularly annoyed as they said Dublin colleagues working from offices in or near Leinster House could simply nip in and out on non-sitting days and register sufficient appearances to qualify for full expenses.

They had a point then and it still stands now.

At the time Máire Hoctor, a former junior minister who lost her seat in the 2011 Fianna Fáil bloodbath, complained the new system was a waste of money, seriously lacking in accountability and could be open to misuse.

“Who is monitoring it?” she asked, pointing out that members could clock each other in, or ask one of their staff to do it for them.

Two weeks ago Paul Murphy suggested in the Dáil, in the light of the cavalier attitude adopted by some TDs to electronic voting, that that scenario might very well exist.

A decade ago a TD from a Munster constituency told us: “What’s to stop a carload of fobs travelling up with someone from Kerry or Cork or down from Donegal? Look at the size of the thing, it’s tiny and you only have to swipe it once a day. Sure anyone could do it and nobody would be any the wiser.”

Back to Hoctor and her assessment in 2010: “It cost nearly €27,000 to install, €18,000 of which has already been paid out, but the system is absolutely useless. It’s a waste of money in this day and age when the voting record already shows who is and isn’t attending the Dáil and Seanad.”

And as we now know, it doesn’t even do that.

Leo and the young ones

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Photograph: Sean Rayford/Getty

Beto O’Rourke bowed out of the race for the 2020 US presidency at the beginning of the week, but Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is hanging on in the hunt for the Democratic nomination.

He told our correspondent Suzanne Lynch during a recent campaign rally in South Carolina that he had a “soft spot” for Ireland and even mentioned that the Taoiseach visited South Bend (home to the Note Dame Fighting Irish football team).

He seems to have been referring to Enda Kenny, as opposed to the incumbent. However, Leo Varadkar and Buttigieg (pronounced Boot-edge-edge) had a brief Twitter conversation earlier this year after the youthful fourth favourite for the Democratic nomination behind Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders was asked to name his favourite novel.

“Ulysses by James Joyce. People view it as this inaccessible, mysterious, complicated opus ... but it’s a very democratic book, about a guy going through life and the incredible depth and meaning to be found in the everyday.”

Leo replied: “I must admit I struggled to read it, but it’s worth persevering because it touches on so many familiar spots in Dublin. That makes it special. Hope you can visit sometime.”

Mayor Pete is up for it. “Me too – sign me and Chasten up for a pint in the city one Bloomsday!” he tweeted. Chasten is his husband.

Parallels have been drawn between the two politicians. Buttigieg (37) is a highly educated, young, gay politician who is aspiring to be the president of the United States. Varadkar (40) is a highly educated, young, gay politician who is aspiring to a second term as Taoiseach.

At his rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the candidate was asked by an audience member if his age was an issue. “The world right now is seeing a rise of a new generation of leaders,” he replied, mentioning Emmanuel Macron (41), Jacinda Ardern (39) and the new president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele (38).

No mention of Leo, though, which must be little disappointing for the Taoiseach, particularly as Pete’s hubby tweeted a couple of months ago, reacting to Mike Pence’s lunch with the Taoiseach and his partner Matt Barrett in Dublin.

“I’ve sat at tables with people who would gladly deny me the right to marry, who openly support conversion therapy, and who adamantly believe being gay is a choice. Doesn’t mean they’re any less homophobic because we shared a meal.”

The plantation of lustre

Keeping up staff morale is very important in the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Happiness Police are always thinking up useful and inspiring ways to enrich the lives of their domestic and international workforce. Implant Week has just finished. How very generous. Dental, breast or contraceptive – it’s a world of choice in Foreign Affairs.

The department’s “wellbeing” team is dying to know how everyone got on. They’ve circulated an email to the Iveagh House troops, who like to think they are the crème de la crème at the glamour end of the civil service.

“Dear colleagues,

“As part of imPLANT week: Green your workspace (21 - 25 October), officers were encouraged to bring in a plant to work. We are now seeking photos of these plants from all across our global network; you can name your plant and give a short summary about it if you wish.

“Once we gather all photos we’ll display them on the intranet as part of Environmental Wellbeing (Theme for Quarter 4 of the Wellbeing Framework).”

The burned-out public servants are then given a full rundown on the “huge benefits of plants in your workplace” including their ability to absorb noise, increase creativity, reduce stress and create a calmer space.

“It’s never too late to green your workspace.

Kind regards…”

By all accounts, morale has soared. We hear the enthusiasm is dripping down the walls.

Make history history

Great newzzzzzz…

On Thursday, the Irish Research Council and the Department of Finance announced that the second volume of the history of the Department of Finance has been commissioned. Following a competitive selection process, Dr Ciarán Casey of UCD was chosen to chart the work of the Department from 1958 to 1999.

And about bloody time, is what we say.

A history of the first 36 years of the Department of Finance’s existence was published in 1978. This first volume was written by the late Ronan Fanning, professor of modern Irish history at UCD. The book is considered a seminal work on the evolution of a key part of Ireland’s administration as a young State.

That’s what we think anyway.

It is hoped the second volume by Dr Casey will be published in 2022, to mark the centenary of the Department of Finance and the foundation of the State. This three-year fellowship is funded by the Department of Finance, and the author will be based in UCD for its duration. So says the press release.

Paschal Donohoe rushed out a comment before he had to rush off to the finance committee, where Mattie McGrath told him that the farmers of Ireland were starving.

“We are delighted to see this project get under way; 2022 will mark 100 years since the Department of Finance was established, and we are very much looking forward to seeing Dr Casey’s work come to life over the next couple of years, shedding new light on the period from the late 1950s to the end of the 20th century.”

We are so with you there, Paschal.

Peter Brown, Director of the Irish Research Council, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Dr Casey to build on the inaugural history of the Department of Finance, and bring new understandings of the role and activities of the department in the second phase of its evolution. We are delighted to partner with the department on this important project, and to help facilitate the generation of new insights and discussions about the development of the Irish State.”

It’ll be epic.