Northern Ireland First Minister suggests fight to keep gay blood ban not over

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has said last week’s decision to rule against the province’s lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men could be appealed.

Yesterday, Health Minister Edwin Poots, the Assembly Member who has led the campaign to keep the ban in Northern Ireland, signalled that he would respect Friday’s judgment by Belfast High Court. It declared that he did not have the power to keep an “irrational” lifetime ban, and had also breached the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Stormont Executive.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood under the advice from SaBTO, the UK Government’s Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs Advisory Committee.

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

But Mr Poots decided to keep the lifetime ban for Northern Ireland – against SaBTO’s guidelines.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Treacy found that Mr Poots acted beyond his capacity.

The UK Department of Health, headed by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, will now have to issue a decision for Northern Ireland.

NI First Minister Peter Robinson believes the matter could have “serious implications for devolution”. Mr Robinson, who belongs to the same party as Mr Poots, is supporting the Assembly Member.

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland on Tuesday, the DUP leader said: “The judgment, if it was to be carried into our normal practices in Northern Ireland would have seen every minister at the Executive table having been in breach of the ministerial code. It’s a very wide interpretation of the ministerial code and one which I think the Executive is going to have to look at.

He added: “I suspect it may well go to appeal. I think it might even go to appeal because the GB department (UK Department of Health) might find that some of the ruling has serious implications for devolution itself.”

Mr Robinson has already dismissed calls to discipline Mr Poots over the alleged breach of the ministerial code, adding that the DUP minister had “acted in good faith”.

In response, a UK Department of Health spokesperson said: “We will consider the potential implications of this judgment on UK blood policy.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, calls by a Scottish National Party MSP to further ease restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men have gained the support of Scotland’s Labour Party along with Scotland’s Liberal Democrats.

Linda Fabiani, who represents East Kilbride, said: “For many, giving blood is seen as a duty and a responsibility. Gay and bisexual men who practice safer sex shouldn’t be discriminated against.”