The spending of £40,000 by the Department of Health in an attempt to defend the ban on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland has been blasted as disgraceful.
The department has spent £39,000 so far on legal costs in relation to the case. The Department of Health said the costs were made up of £29,200 in charges for barristers, £9,400 in solicitors' costs and £500 in other charges.
In response to an Assembly question from Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, the department said the final cost of the case was not yet known as an appeal was ongoing. "The department has appealed the judgment in this legal case and any future costs will be in respect of the appeal. However, these costs are not yet known," the response said.
A permanent ban on gay men donating blood was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011. It was replaced by new rules which allow donations from gay men who have not had sexual contact with another man for more than a year.
But former Health Minister Edwin Poots maintained the prohibition in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety.
Earlier in the case a judge ruled the ban was "infected by apparent bias".
The judge also backed claims from lawyers for a gay man that Mr Poots' stance was influenced by his Christian beliefs.
The High Court ruling strengthened a previous finding in October 2013 that the ban was irrational.
Mr Agnew slammed the expenditure as "disgraceful" and urged current Health Minister Jim Wells to abandon the action. "It is a similar amount of money to what was paid out in the legal challenge to gay couples adopting," he said. "Combined, these sums are significant. Collectively, they show further evidence that, as Justice Treacy put it, this is beyond religious belief and into the realms of prejudice.
"This is clearly a personal agenda driven forward by a previous Health Minister. Given that the appeal is ongoing, it looks like it is set to continue with the current Health Minister. I think it is a disgrace that that a minister has used public money to follow what had been judged by the courts as a personal agenda."