I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House for this very important Bill. It is something that has come up for us, as the Green Party, an awful lot. However, I know for a fact that it comes up for every party. I refer to election posters and the scourge that people feel they are.
When it comes time for an election, we all want to get our face out there and be recognised. However, even when one looks at public polling, the majority of people are not in agreement that this is how they want democracy to go in this country. The majority of countries in the EU take a different approach, which is what this Bill is based on. It is based on ensuring that we have a democratic process that ensures that we have a level playing field and a full and free election. This means that everybody gets to have an opportunity to have their face displayed, but it is done in such a way that everybody gets the same amount of space. We have these on designated areas, which are selected by the local authority on the basis that it understands the constituency best.
The reason that I was keen to ensure that this was put into the Bill is because I spoke to councillors, and councils, particularly Galway City Council, who tried to put in place a ban on election posters. There was then the idea of having designated areas, which is what this Bill does. One thing that came up for people was the question of if they lived in one area and another councillor lives in different area, would the one designated zone be in the area where an opponent lives. I have taken that on board in this Bill in saying it is the local authority that will have designated areas, knowing that it is covering the whole constituency. That is very important. The basis of that is a set of regulations issued by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That means that there can be a fair playing field for everyone.
We have found that the number one thing that comes back from people who complain about election posters is not just the environmental aspect, which I will touch on, but it is also the fact that, for example, they fall and hit people on the head. I have actually had to go across the road and pick up election posters, because in the windy west of Ireland that is a regular occurrence. There are also cable ties on the ground, which are a nuisance for people. People with disabilities, mobility issues and those with young children who are driving buggies along the footpath all have to get around fallen election posters. In 2019, Dublin City Council issued more than €30,000 in fines for people who had incorrectly erected their posters.
These fines were issued predominantly because of complaints from members of the public. We, as elected representatives, really need to take on board what the public says it wants. It does not want posters everywhere. However, it is also fair enough to say we want to make sure there is visibility for candidates. In other countries, there are designated areas at which the posters are visible and that give candidates an opportunity, instead of just showing their faces, to really lay out what is in their manifestos and the reasons people should vote for them. That is another benefit of this proposal.
To move on to the issue of the environment, there were 600,000 posters in the 2014 local election campaign. That is the equivalent of 23 Croke Parks full of posters. Most of the posters are of really poor quality plastic because that is the cheapest. The Green Party quite famously tried to produce more environmentally friendly posters but they disintegrated, as the Minister will remember. It is more costly to do other things and environmentally friendly posters do not stand up to the weather in this country. The 600,000 posters reportedly produced 360 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The posters are a nuisance and create plastic that pollutes our oceans and the whole countryside. In addition, they have an impact on our carbon emissions. We are leaders in our communities and it is time for us to show leadership for the climate and environment however we can. This Bill is one of the ways we can.
The Minister of State ran without election posters and got over the line. Fair play to him. What is really notable, however, is that he had had a long career before that. It is quite difficult to run with no posters when everyone else is running with them. That is why we must all make sure we are on the same road and why we have to proceed through legislation and regulation. Individual councils have been trying to address this but have not been able to get over the line because they cannot make the decisions; they have to be made within the Department. One approach is to consider changing this. Another involves regulations that allow the local authorities to decide where poster zones would be. That is what this Bill would do.
Another huge factor for me is that we are trying to have more diversity in politics. It is incredibly expensive to get into politics. In the last election I was up against people who literally had thousands of posters. There was no way I could have afforded thousands of posters, nor was there any way that my party could have afforded to give me any money towards them. An independent candidate does not get any support either. One is really banking on getting a certain number of votes to get back some expenses, but the money does not really go anywhere near what it takes to make up for thousands of posters.
This legislation is a measure that ensures more equality and better representation in politics, which is what everybody says they want in this Chamber and in the Dáil. This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to making decisions that will make politics more inclusive. We have a low rate of representation by women in politics, and there is also a low rate of representation by those who do not have the social capital. If one does not have social capital, one needs to make one's face known. Those who are better known and have a longer history in their communities are the ones who get over the line. When parties, particularly larger ones, are looking for people to run, they ask who is really well known in the community and who has a family that is really well known. These are the factors that are taken into account, but they should not necessarily be. We should be ensuring that people who are newer to our country are supported as well. One step — it is only one — is to make sure that when it comes to visibility during an election campaign, everybody gets the same shot. That is what this Bill will do.
I will go through some of the specific elements of the Bill for Members.
It seeks to regulate the placement of election posters and materials for advertising referendums to a given number of designated areas, which will be chosen by the relevant local authority. The Bill seeks to ensure that the advertising of election candidates and referendums is fairer, cleaner, safer and less wasteful. It would prevent the current practice of attaching election materials to every lamppost, road bridge and electricity pole. Instead, it establishes designated areas where election and referendum materials can be placed during campaigns. This would enable the public to go and receive information on all candidates running in an election or information on both sides of a referendum. It would reduce a lot of waste, street clutter and littering, which is often the accidental result of postering. We do not intend to litter but I cannot tell Senators the number of times I have picked up other candidates' election materials from a bush and delivered them back to them because I was not going to let the litter remain in the environment.
This approach would also ensure that it is fairer for independent candidates and candidates from smaller parties by ensuring they can get the same amount of advertising as a candidate running for a larger and wealthier party. These designated areas would be established through regulation by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The local authority would be given the task of establishing various designated areas across a constituency in line with the regulations. These could include stipulations that advertisements are clearly visible and easily legible, that the appropriate number of designated areas exist across a local area, that the permissible locations for designated areas for advertising be established during an election or referendum campaign and that minimum and maximum dimensions be specified for the designated areas for the display of electoral posters and advertisements. This approach is intended to ensure that fair coverage is given to each candidate or to each proposal that is the subject of a referendum.
I reiterate that this approach is taken in other European countries. Therefore, we are not reinventing the wheel. It involves exploring what works well in other areas and determining what will ensure we will not see people from those other countries coming to Ireland in the middle of an election campaign and wondering how we are so out of step. We are out of step when what we are saying now is that we are leaders when it comes to action on climate with our Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, and when we are also leaders, as the Minister of State will know, when it comes to actions on national parks and wildlife. Littering is another subject close to people's hearts. I ask Senators to support this Bill. Undoubtedly, some will have their own suggestions as to how to deal with this issue, but I hope others, even those from wealthier and larger parties, can at least agree it is time for us all to operate on a level playing field.