N Ireland keeps blood donation ban
Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK to maintain a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood, it has been revealed.
A ban following the 1980s Aids threat has been eased in other parts of the country and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Sinn Fein are accusing Stormont health minister Edwin Poots of prejudice over his decision to keep the prohibition on homosexuals.
Mr Poots, of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), told the Assembly that the law in Northern Ireland should not change.
He said: "This is a complex area. Blood-borne infections, well-recognised or as yet undiscovered, have the potential to destroy healthy lives. Public safety must be my primary concern and I want the Northern Ireland public to have maximum confidence in our blood supply."
Under new rules from Westminster, men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago can donate, with Great Britain set to become the first place in Europe to remove the lifetime ban specifically for men who have sex with other males.
Italy and Spain have time-limited deferrals for anyone engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour while all other European Union countries continue to operate a lifetime ban. The United States and Canada also operate life bans.
UUP health spokesman John McCallister said: "This isn't about gay men giving blood, this is about prejudice within the DUP. All of the statistics are showing that this is a safe practice."
Sinn Fein MLA Michelle Gildernew, who is chair of the Stormont health committee, said Mr Poots is wrong to maintain the lifetime ban and said he needs to reverse the decision.
John O'Doherty, of the Rainbow Project, an organisation for gay men, said his concern with the decision is whether Northern Ireland will now be able to accept blood donations that come from the rest of the UK.
He said: "We don't get to decide whose blood we actually take, and if the UK are relaxing their ban, then we have to question whether, with our lifetime ban, we can accept donations from the rest of the UK."