Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

'Independence' fear over gay ruling

Edwin Poots did not have the power to maintain the prohibition on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland, a judge has ruled

The independence of ministers may be lost following a legal ruling on a ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland, it was claimed.

On Friday a judge said health minister Edwin Poots did not have the power to maintain the prohibition and breached the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before Stormont's executive.

Mr Poots said he may have unwittingly broken the rule book but claimed other ministers, including education's John O'Dowd, could be equally culpable.

He said: "I suspect most of the material that would be on the in tray would be material that at some point would have to be brought before the Executive and therefore the independent decision making that many ministers have applied heretofore may be something that is lost.

"I suspect that many of the people who are baying and crowing may be the people that have most to lose as a consequence of Lord Justice Treacy's judgment in this issue."

The Stormont minister has said it is up to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt what happens next.

The ban was put in place during the 1980s and was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin said: "What Edwin Poots needs to do now is reverse the ban on the gay community donating life-saving blood.

"He should also save himself further embarrassment and stop wasting more public finances by putting a halt to his appeal of the court decision to allow civil partnerships and same sex couples to adopt.

"If the minister is worried about losing face by doing a U-turn on his discriminatory ban then he should take consolation in the fact that he will be doing the right thing."

Despite the changes in Great Britain, Mr Poots maintained the status quo in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety.

But a gay man granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability launched a judicial review challenge to Mr Poots' position on blood donation.

In his judgment, the judge said that the decision to continue the lifetime ban was "irrational".

Mr Poots said: "This is not an issue of religiosity or moral views, this is an issue of public safety."

He added: "Some (Stormont) members may want to ignore public safety issues but I am responsible for people's health and well-being and for people that receive blood; they need to ensure that that blood is safe."

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