Northern Ireland Health Minister concedes gay blood ban ‘matter for Jeremy Hunt’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has signalled that his crusade to maintain the province’s lifetime ban on gay men giving blood is at an end.

“I don’t think I have a decision to make; I don’t think the judgment permits that, so I don’t have [anything] further to do in that respects,” he said on Monday.

Asked by the BBC whether the ban in Northern Ireland would remain in place, Mr Poots replied: “The judge believes it is a decision for Jeremy Hunt. Jeremy Hunt didn’t believe it was, but obviously the judge is contradicting the Department of Health in England and it’s a matter for the Department of Health to take whatever action it believes it should.”

On Friday, the High Court in Belfast ruled Mr Poots did not have the power to maintain the ban and declared that he broke the ministerial code in failing to refer the matter to the Stormont Assembly.

Mr Justice Treacy said Mr Poots displayed apparent bias that went beyond religious beliefs and into the realms of prejudice.

Today, DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said the ruling had ramifications for the Stormont Executive and for the UK Department of Health in London.

Mr Robinson, who belongs to the same party as Mr Poots, said it was important that major decisions came before the Executive but refused to criticise the Assembly Member and said no minister had asked for the blood ban to be discussed.

In September, it was revealed Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) had spent £37,112 in relation to Mr Poots’ legal challenge.

It now falls to UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to quash the ban in Northern Ireland.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood.

They can donate – providing they refrain from having sex with men for 12 months.

Mr Poots has also used £40,000 of public money in order to fund a legal challenge to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children.

In October 2012, Mr Justice Treacy said the ban discriminated against those in civil partnerships and breached their right to family life.