People who are blind or vision impaired will be able to use new tactile ballot templates in the upcoming referendum on the 8th Amendment, thanks to a landmark High Court case brought by a Wexford man.
It means they can for the first time cast their ballots in secret.
Up to now people with sight loss had to rely on others to help them exercise their franchise, which compromised their privacy.
The High Court case taken by visually-impared Robbie Sinnott, from Sigginstown, Tacumshane, last year, cleared the way for a tactile mechanism to be used to allow people who are blind or visually impaired to exercise their franchise independently.
'This is a historic year for people who are blind or vision impaired,' said Chris White, from the NCBI.
'Up to now their vote was not secret, they had to discuss their choice with somebody else and they could not even be sure that their preferred vote went into the ballot box .
'This situation was never acceptable to the NCBI and we are delighted that our recommendations have been taken on board by the Department.' Mr White said he was urging people with sight loss to contact the NCBI in advance of the upcoming referendum and try out the tactile templates to ensure they are comfortable and at ease using them. He said regional offices - in Wexford at the Lochrann Centre, Cinema Lane - will be equipped with the templates and there will be ample time for people to have the opportunity to try them"
The templates, produced by the The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, are clear plastic devices which are placed over the ballot paper and features raised lettering, large print and braille.
They also has cut out sections to assist people to find where to mark their vote.
Father of two Mr Sinnott, a member of the Blind Legal Alliance, told the High Court that the State had failed to provide a method enabling those with sight difficulties to vote by secret ballot and he had to ask polling station presiding officers in order to vote. The court agreed with his contention and said at the time the Minister should outline plans to allow people to mark ballots without assistance, which has now become a reality. 'This is the most significant voting case in the history of the state and it's symbolically important for the five per cent of the population who are blind or visually impaired and we're delighted to have such a basic human right within reach,' Mr Sinnott told this newspaper.