According to the 2011 Census, there are almost 53,000 people in the Republic of Ireland with a severe visual impairment – with approximately 52,000 being above the age of 18. This figure is set to rise significantly as average life-expectancy increases. Despite recent advances in technology that have revolutionised how people with visual impairment interact with the world, many inequalities persist.
In 2011, Robbie Sinnott – who suffers from severe visual impairment – founded the Blind Legal Alliance, with its first action to campaign for the right to secret ballot in elections and referenda. Currently if a person with a visual impairment wishes to vote, they must do so through a ‘trusted friend’ or the presiding officer.
After pursuing complaints to a number of public bodies, Robbie came to PILA looking to challenge the State’s failure to put in place mechanisms to enable him to vote in secret.
PILA sought a legal opinion from Michael Lynn SC on the legal basis for challenging the current method of voting. The opinion found that Ireland is currently in breach of its obligations to the EU under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and the time was opportune to challenge current procedures in advance of the European elections in May 2014. PILA then approached Eversheds Solicitors to come on board on a pro bono basis.
Robbie has taken his case to the High Court in a bid to assert the constitutional right of all visually impaired people to participate fully in democratic decision making processes. The case is currently ongoing, having been heard in the High Court for five days July 2016. PILA has continued support Robbie and the Blind Legal Alliance throughout the process.