Poots responds to gay blood ruling

Poots responds to gay blood ruling

Health Minister Edwin Poots has said it is now up to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to decide what happens next in relation to the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

Last week, a High Court ruled that the prohibition here is irrational and that Mr Poots breached the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Executive.

The DUP minister came to the Assembly on Monday afternoon to give his reaction to the ruling, saying he will now pass the matter over to his Westminster counterpart.

Mr Poots admitted he may have made a mistake in regard to the ministerial code.

He said: "I suspect most of the material that would be on the in tray would be material that at some point would have to be brought before the Executive and therefore the independent decision making that many ministers have applied heretofore may be something that is lost.

"I suspect that many of the people who are baying and crowing may be the people that have most to lose as a consequence of Lord Justice Treacy's judgment in this issue."

Sinn Féin also asked what power the Speaker has to take action on the breach of the code.

Caitriona Ruane said: "I would like the DUP to explain why they are resisting gay rights as seen with the ban on gay men donating blood although the medical evidence has shown that this blood is screened and as safe as blood donated by other groups.

"In terms of equality it is important that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have the same rights as everyone else yet this is being denied day and daily by the failure not to bring a strategy forward."

Speaking earlier in the Assembly, there was no hint of censure from First Minister Peter Robinson for his Health Minister.

Instead he warned against the judiciary taking too much to do with political matters.

The DUP leader said: "With regard to the decision being in breach of the ministerial code, the provisions were included during my party's negotiations.

"They have been discussed on a number of occasions at Executive meetings, and we have taken advice from time to time from the Attorney General.

"There has been a general Executive view that if we were to carry it to the level to which Mr Justice Treacy carried it, everything would come to the Executive.

"There would be no spending or individual decisions by Ministers, and everything would have to come to the Executive Committee."

Friday's verdict on gay blood donation, in a challenge brought by an unidentified homosexual man, represents a major victory for campaigners seeking equal status with the rest of the UK.

The complete prohibition - put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat - was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

It was replaced by new rules which allow blood from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago. The 12-month deferral was left in place following a Government Advisory Committee report.

It identified a much shorter period during which infection with blood-borne viruses could not be detected.

Mr Poots maintained the ban in Northern Ireland on the grounds of ensuring public safety.

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