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Editor's Viewpoint: Politicians must explain their actions

In another day in the often surreal world of Northern Ireland politics, two senior politicians yesterday came out with seemingly inexplicable pronouncements.

One was regarding a very serious issue, blood donation and who should not be allowed to give potentially life-saving donations. The other, not unusually, involved the Ulster Unionist Party and its ability to create internal dissent and damage its public standing at the drop of a hat.

DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots not only wants to continue the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood but also would like to extend it to anyone indulging in high risk sexual behaviour, though quite how that would be defined is not made clear. His continuation of the ban is in direct contradiction to the position in the rest of the UK where it was dropped last November after consideration of scientific evidence.

But Mr Poots says he has two other pieces of evidence - although he has only given tantalising glimpses of them - which substantiate his stance. However, unless he is prepared to allow that evidence to be properly debated, the suspicion will remain that his opposition to gay men giving blood donations is personal. It will be interpreted as discriminatory and inconsistent given the position in other regions of the UK. If he believes his evidence is strong then surely health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales should be presented with it and forced to react. Mr Poots' position is undermined by the fact that we use blood from other regions for transfusions in Northern Ireland and all blood is rigorously screened for a wide range of infections.

Meanwhile former UUP stalwart, Lord Kilclooney, has accused the present leader, Mike Nesbitt, of Hitler-like tactics for censoring Lord Ken Maginnis for his intemperate outburst about gay marriages and also withdrawing the party whip from him. Lord Maginnis' comments went beyond acceptable language and Mr Nesbitt's reaction seems all the more reasonable given the latest ludicrous attack on his leadership. Will the UUP never learn to stop washing dirty linen in public?