State will not appeal declaration visually impaired man should get secret ballot

Father of two complained he must ask polling station officer to complete his ballot

 Robbie Sinnott, a member of the Blind Legal Alliance, complained he was effectively being deprived of his right to a secret ballot because he must ask a polling station presiding officer to complete his ballot paper. File photograph: David Sleator

Robbie Sinnott, a member of the Blind Legal Alliance, complained he was effectively being deprived of his right to a secret ballot because he must ask a polling station presiding officer to complete his ballot paper. File photograph: David Sleator

 

The State has decided not to appeal a High Court declaration secured by a severely visually impaired man who sought to vote privately and without assistance in referendums and elections.

Robbie Sinnott, supported by the Free Legal Advice Centres, initiated proceedings last year against the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government and the State.

Mr Sinnott, a father of two of James Street, Dublin and a member of the Blind Legal Alliance, complained he was effectively being deprived of his right to a secret ballot because he must ask a polling station presiding officer to complete his ballot paper.

He ultimately won a High Court declaration last April concerning the duties of the Minister for the Environment towards him and also secured his legal costs against the Minister.

Mr Justice Tony O’Connor was told on Thursday the State had decided not to appeal.

Last April, the judge declared the Minster has a duty to provide arrangements to facilitate voters with visual impairments to mark their ballot papers without assistance as envisaged by Section 94(5)(i) of the 1992 Electoral Act “where there are no disclosed reasonably practicable economic or effective reasons” not to do so.

The declaration arose from a judgment in favour of Mr Sinnott in which the judge was critical of delays by the Department of the Environment over years until 2016, after Mr Sinnott took his case, in introducing regulations allowing for use of templates to assist visually impaired persons (VIPs) when voting in referendums.

The fact the Minister acted in 2016 on his 20 year old power to introduce regulations allowing for use of templates in referendums underscored an acceptance tactile voting devices (TVDs) “could have been made available for multiple referenda since 2009”, the judge said.

He also empathised with Mr Sinnott’s complaint about lack of information emanating from the Department relating to the actual steps taken, or to be taken, to emulate the use of TVDs available in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sinnott was born with severe visual impairment. With assistance of an educational support worker, a specially developed computer software package and strong visual magnifier, he is pursuing a PhD in Irish at Trinity College having previously obtained other degrees.