Belfast Telegraph

Gay blood donor ban: Details should be disclosed to public

By Liam Clarke

Life is never dull with Edwin Poots and John Larkin around.

Now Poots's decision, taken after advice from the Attorney General, will have unsought implications for the carve-up of power at Stormont.

It puts a welcome question mark over the "silo system" which allows ministers to run their publicly-funded budgets and departments like fiefdoms with a minimum of scrutiny or interference.

In most other systems there is collective responsibility and Mr Justice Treacy nudged things a little in that direction last Friday. He found Mr Poots decision making "irrational" and said that on one point he should have brought in the full Executive or relied on a British Minister to guide him.

This was Mr Poots' decision to reject the findings of an official scientific report and to ban Northern Ireland gay men from giving blood for life. He made up the shortfall by importing blood from Britain, where gay man do donate.

That is hard to defend. But the implications are hardly as great as Peter Robinson suggests, when he said it implied that every decision, no matter how small, would now have to be thrashed out around the Executive table. When the dust settles people will see that the Stormont Health Minister – a religious fundamentalist who believes homosexuality is sinful and argues that the earth is 4,000 years old whatever the scientists say – made this decision with his heart more than his head.

The problem is that it is a far- reaching decision which affects not just gay men but people seeking blood transfusions in times of scarcity. Mr Poots has not been afraid to go out on a limb on other issues too – take his flawed abortion guidelines now under review and his ban on gay adoptions.

Mr Larkin also has an independent cast of mind. It is important that we see the advice which the Attorney General is giving to Mr Poots when these decisions which end up being fought out at taxpayer expense in court are made.

Both of them should give their consent to publishing it and not run up more legal bills resisting. The courts and the information commission have done a good job holding these two public officials to account.

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