Belfast Telegraph

Clarification urged on blood ruling

A controversial legal ruling conflicts with steps to implement the parties' Programme for Government for Northern Ireland, First Minister Peter Robinson claimed.

If a promise is agreed by the coalition government, to be fulfilled during its term in office, then there is no requirement to take decisions to Stormont's Executive under existing law, the DUP leader added.

On Friday a judge said Health Minister Edwin Poots did not have the power to maintain a prohibition on gay men giving blood and had 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.

His party leader said: "Mr Justice Treacy's ruling would mean that any matter, no matter how great or small is its cross-cutting (nature), should be brought to the executive.

"Equally, if it is controversial or significant it would have to be brought to the executive.

"I cannot think of any decision that a minister takes in his department that would not fall under this."

He said roads, housing, schools or hospitals decisions could be referred to the Executive following the judgment.

"The ruling does not take into account that the law stipulates that if they are within the Programme For Government there is no requirement to do so," he added.

"There are a number of issues that need to be clarified."

He said a previous court ruling indicated that for a matter to be considered controversial or significant it would have to be raised by one of the minister's executive colleagues.

Mr Robinson said that could provide a "filter" to ensure that every single decision is not referred to the executive table.

He added an appeal against Mr Justice Treacy's decision was not the only way around the ruling and pointed out that the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan had raised similar issues.

An assembly petition of concern passed by 30 members can force action or a matter can be referred to the executive by the courts if an individual raises the case.

The ban on gay men donating blood was put in place during the 1980s and was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

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.

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

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