Northern Ireland minister accused of homophobia over gay blood ban

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Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots has come under heavy pressure to lift the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.

Mr Poots said this week that he would not bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the country because of fears around HIV transmission.

The health minister, who says he is “an opponent of the theory of evolution”, has been accused of homophobia.

Sinn Fein health committee chairwoman Michelle Gildernew said: “This decision is wrong and Mr Poots needs to reverse it. The minister is bringing his own prejudice into play.”

Ulster Unionist health spokesman John McCallister accused the health minister of “outdated and irrational prejudice”.

The centrist Alliance party’s health spokesman, Kieran McCarthy, called the ban “despicable” and said it was “disgraceful” that Mr Poots was allowing it to continue.

Writing earlier this week, Mr Poots said: “The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) has confirmed that the risk of HIV infection would, although by a small margin, increase as a result of a relaxation in the present lifetime deferral.”

Earlier this month, UK health ministers announced that the rules would be relaxed in England, Wales and Scotland on November 7th – allowing gay and bisexual men to donate if they refrain from sex for 12 months.

The decision followed a review by the government’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

Some campaigners have argued that any ban based on sexual orientation is discriminatory and may break European law.

John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said recently that while EU laws demand donation restriction on those at higher risk of HIV, sexual behaviour is not identical to sexual orientation.