Northern Ireland's health minister Edwin Poots uses £40k of public funds to fight same-sex adoption
An Executive minister's £40,000 legal bill for fighting the extension of adoption rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland has been condemned as "a blatant waste of taxpayers' money".
The Alliance Party demanded that Health Minister Edwin Poots stop using public funds to campaign on party or personal issues.
"He cannot be allowed to continue spending public money in this way and must be stopped," Assembly Member Kieran McCarthy said.
But Mr Poots revealed he is still considering using departmental funds to make a further appeal on the issue to the Supreme Court.
And he added: "Many in Northern Ireland are opposed to the decision of the Court of Appeal because they hold sacred the traditional view of family life."
The £40,000 cost of the Department of Health's legal challenge against a court ruling on gay adoption was revealed in a written Assembly answer.
Moves to allow gay couples to adopt had been set to the side while the Court of Appeal heard Mr Poots' case. It followed an earlier decision by Belfast High Court, which ruled the current adoption ban on gay and lesbian couples was unlawful.
Lord Justice Girvan said the Department of Health had put forward "no justification to exclude same sex couples as parties eligible to adopt as a couple".
With Mr Poots indicating he may still not accept the verdict – which would push the final bill even higher – Mr McCarthy said: "This campaign led by the Health Minister on behalf of the DUP has been a blatant waste of taxpayers' money.
"I am appealing to the minister to accept the court's decision and cease any future legal action.
"This law not only affects same sex couples, but also unmarried heterosexual couples and it is unacceptable that both these groups are prevented from providing a stable and loving home to the many children in our social care system in need of one." Mr Poots said he had not made a final decision about taking an appeal to the Supreme Court.
"My decision will take account of a range of factors.
"This will include a consideration of the cost to the public purse," he said.
"However, it will also include a consideration of the expressed views of many in Northern Ireland who are opposed to the decision of the Court of Appeal because they hold sacred the traditional view of family life and believe that the interests of children are best served by being cared for by a couple in a low-conflict stable marriage.
"Mr McCarthy and others can be assured that, whatever I do, I will be motivated by what is in the best interests of children and young people, who, for a host of reasons, are unable to live with birth parents."
STORY SO FAR
A single gay or lesbian person can adopt children in Northern Ireland, but a couple in a civil partnership can't.
In June, the Court of Appeal dismissed a bid by the Department of Health challenging the High Court decision to lift the ban on gay and lesbian couples in civil partnerships from legally adopting.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said that the ruling would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.