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Not feasible to hear legal challenge to lack of voting facilities for visually impaired before next month's elections - High Court

IT will not be feasible to hear a legal challenge to the lack of secret voting facilities for the visually impaired before next month's European and local elections, the president of the High Court said.

Even if the court granted an expedited hearing of the case, it could be appealed to the Supreme Court and it would not be possible for a hearing to take place there before polling day on May 23, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said.

He made the comment when he adjourned to May 14 the challenge brought by Robert Sinnott, a representative of the Blind Legal Alliance campaign group.

He claims the State is failing to uphold his constitutional rights and European law by failing to have in place a mechanism which allows the visually impaired cast their votes in secret. At the moment, Mr Sinnott must ask the polling station presiding officer to complete his ballot paper which effectively means he is being deprived of his right to a secret ballot, he says.

His case is against the Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government and the State.

His lawyers have argued there is a relatively simple solution available whereby a braille sleeve is placed over the ordinary ballot paper.

His counsel Patrick Dillon-Malone told the court a Derry-based firm provides such a service and is able to provide the sleeves between close of nominations and polling day.

Counsel said his side was in a position to provide expert reports over Easter and it was anticipated the would have two or three expert witnesses for the hearing along with Mr Sinnott.

Frank Callanan SC, for the State parties, disputed that the solution was as simple as Mr Dillon-Malone suggested.

With our proportional representation system, the ballot paper would have to be longer than those used in other electoral systems, he said.

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The date for the European elections was known last June and for the locals even earlier, he said.  "We are now confronted with this rushed application", he said.

Independent trials of the braille sleeve system could also not be completed in time for the elections.  The timescale for the case being sought by the Sinnott side was simply not achievable, he said.

Mr Justice Kearns agreed and said the case would proceed in the usual way.

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