Photos by Stephen Bourke

Bad Soup have a problem.

Everyone claims they’re going to go to the party on the Facebook event page, but on the night, few show up.

“In the digital world, commitments that people might make to themselves, it’s kind of a bit more mythical,” says Dan, one of the Dublin-based art and music collective’s organisers.

We agreed not to use Dan’s surname because their solution was a little bit illegal. Ahead of their launch party in October at the Grand Social, they peppered the city with their bright pink graphic. They say it worked a treat.

“When you have something in the real world, in the physical realm, I just think it’s another way to access people. Stickers are absolutely incredible for that purpose.

“A2 or A3 posters are a bit more expensive, [but] stickers are just really really cost-effective in terms of the size and the implication. A random burst of colour in really boring places just tends to grab the eye,” said Dan.

Bad Soup got their stickers from a printer based in Northern Ireland, and paid just €55 for 600 – not a bad return for a marketing campaign Dan says does a lot to get people to actually turn up to events advertised online – and for a fraction of the price of a social media blitz.

“The quality is fantastic,” Dan said. “I didn’t think they were gonna last that well because the weather’s extremely temperamental, but I’m walking around now and I’m still seeing them.”

A number of Irish printing firms advertise promotional stickers designed specially for outdoor use, offering water-resistant vinyl coatings and inks which won’t fade in daylight, and by the looks of it, the technology works.

“They’ve really been lasting, it’ll be funny to look down the line in a few years and maybe even see some still around,” he said.

Sticker Wars

On O’Connell Street, stickerers for abortion-rights and anti-abortion-rights activists have struggled for control of the poles, reaching a messy détente that sees few intact stickers for either side remaining – but lots of white-paper scraps.

While most stickerers are reasonably judicious, others are attempting full-spectrum dominance, most notably fans of local-lads-made-good Jedward, and local bedding magnate Mattress Mick.

Stickers promoting the pop duo’s official website and social media accounts were on almost every other lamppost on O’Connell Street and James’s Street last week. One was slapped over Mattress Mick’s face.

Two varieties of Mattress Mick stickers can be seen on poles from one end of the south city to the other: one depicts him in the style of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster of Barack Obama; the other is a pastiche of Jim Fitzpatrick’s Che Guevara poster, with Michael Flynn in place of the Cuban revolutionary.

Paul Kelly, marketing manager for Mattress Mick, has not been shy about his guerilla tactics in the past, but says this time, it’s not his doing.

“We still don’t know who’s putting those up, they just keep popping up everywhere,” he said. “I think it’s someone in one of the colleges is sticking them up.”

Jedward’s management did not respond to a request for comment.

Gerry Farrell, operations manager with DublinTown, is open-minded about street art – as long as it’s done with permission. And stickering on street furniture generally isn’t.

“Stickering especially tends to detract from the view of the city – it goes up on shutters, it goes up on shop windows, it goes up on bins and lampposts and that sort of stuff.

“There’s only a handful of taggers, but they’re quite prolific so they might go on a bit of a rampage one weekend – you might have 20 or 30 different spots where it would appear overnight. It would be the same with the stickering,” Farrell said.

“Every viewpoint, every group, every football club you can imagine seems to have their roll of stickers and they go up and around everywhere. We do get requests to come and clean them up.”

A Dublin City Council Press Office spokesperson said that removing stickers and graffiti was part of the daily routine of its clean-up crews in the city centre, and couldn’t put an exact figure on what that work cost.

They also warned stickerers that they could face littering fines if caught: “Any item attached to Dublin City Council property may attract a fine or prosecution under section 19 of the Litter Pollution Act. Graffiti is also an offence under this section of the act.”

But that assumes they can catch them: according to figures obtained by the Irish Times, postering offences accounted for about 12 percent of litter prosecutions between January and November this year – but that’s a total of just nine cases.

The Dark Side

Of course, not everyone with a roll of stickers is out to put a splash of colour into your day.
After attending a protest against direct provision last month, activist Rachel Coyle found an anti-immigrant sticker on a pole on Abbey Street.

Lutz Bachmann, the founder of the far-right white-nationalist group Pegida, was convicted of a hate crime in his home city of Dresden in January for wearing a T-shirt bearing the same graphic.

Coyle, who works as a political advisor to Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, was furious.

“Although obviously I wasn’t the target of the sticker I find it really horrible and offensive, and the fact that this is being expressed so freely in our society – it frightens me,” she said. “In the age of Trumpism, we can’t take anything for granted.”

Her friends scraped it off the pole and posted about it on Twitter. “I think it was fairly handy to take it off, but I’ve been informed to be very careful about that. People contacted me and asked [whether there were] razor blades on the back of it, because they had found that around the city.”

Dublin City Council said it made a priority of removing “racist, political or offensive messages … generally within 24 hours.”

Authorities have greater powers to punish political stickering. A law brought in in 2009 targeting election posters requires anything posted in public relating to candidates for political office or a referendum to show the name of its printer.

In the electoral off-season, parties keep their brands current with posters advertising public meetings, which have a limited exemption under the law.

DublinTown’s staff are on the case too. “You’ll get a few bits and pieces like that where a person, usually at night, will go out with a paintbrush and paint and you’ll get some unpleasant bit of comment or symbols or that,” said Farrell.

“Thankfully, it’s rare enough, but there was some unpleasant stuff last year or the year before painted on a hoarding – I don’t even want to repeat some of the stuff – just off College Green. We had a team down with a bit of paint to clean it off within half an hour,” he said.

“Everyone keeps an eye out and they’re quick to let us know if something offensive or unpleasant goes up,” Farrell said.

A Brief History

Alan Kinsella runs and has been an avid collector of Irish political ephemera since getting a fistful of leaflets at a polling station in 1982.

His collection includes stickers dating as far back as the 1950s – the oldest is for a Fianna Fáil fundraising do. Things were a little different back then though.

“Stickers would have been popular in the 70s, 80s, 90s,” Kinsella said. “You would have worn them on clothes, you wouldn’t have been sticking them on lampposts.”

Stickers began to replace traditional rosettes in the Irish political arena in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then, fly-postering was the way of the world.

Feminist and environmental groups did produce stickers in the 70s and 80s, but Kinsella says they largely followed the lead of the political parties, and kept them on their lapels, with pasted signs on the streets.

Football supporters were some of the first to say it with stickers on poles here. “There would have been a load of soccer ones, there would have been various different ultras crews putting stickers around Dublin to show where they were,” he says.

Kinsella points to the Shell to Sea campaign and the Workers’ Solidarity Movement as the first political groups to take up the technique here in the early 2000s.

Although there were nasty messages being posted in the days of fly-paper, Kinsella believes desktop publishing and automated printing make it easier to get whatever message you like mass-produced and ready to hit the street furniture – including hate speech.

“Stickers were only relatively recent – I suppose only when they became relatively cheap to produce them yourself,” he says.

“Where companies don’t ask now, where everything’s automated, where 20 years ago or 30 years ago you would have had to go into a printer – people would have actually had to read what’s on them,” he said.

Staying Put

It seems inaccurate to describe stickers as ephemera, at least when they’re attached to something solid. There’s a large one about two metres up a pole at the southwest corner of O’Connell Bridge promoting a Legalize Cannabis march that took place way back in August 2014.

Governments have come and gone in that space of time. Few could have predicted at the time that a legalisation bill – if only for medicinal use – would have got near a hearing in the Dáil.
Attitudes shifted, but the humble sticker stayed put.

It weathers its third winter in the open still perfectly legible from street height by one of the Ireland’s busiest routes for pedestrians. Who knows, maybe a few of them got the message.

Stephen Bourke is a freelance journalist, but more importantly, a second-generation Dub on both sides of the family. @anburcach

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