Northern Ireland Assembly calls on Edwin Poots to end blood ban, or resign

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Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots should resign if he is unable to end the ban on gay men giving blood, the country’s Assembly has warned.

Yesterday, the Assembly passed a motion urging Mr Poots to lift the ban on gay men and allow blood donations from those who have been sexually inactive for one year.

Resuming the debate after Question Time, the UUP’s Roy Beggs said: “We have to go on the best science in this area, rather than someone’s personal viewpoint”.

He noted that while there were bans on blood donations by certain groups, such as those who had used intravenous drugs, screening had progressed to the point that the risk of harm from blood given by MSM (men who have sex with men) was negligible.

He added that the ban was “irrational” when hospitals in Northern Ireland received blood from the rest of the UK.

Mr Poots gave an impassioned defence of his decisions – both in maintaining the blood ban and unsuccessfully trying to prevent unmarried and same-sex couples from adopting children in the province.

“What we have witnessed is a degree of judicial activism that means that judges are making the laws, as opposed to Parliament or in this case the devolved administration making the laws,” he said of the blood ban.

“I was well within my rights to say that if every other country in Europe except two, if every country in North America and most of the western world are maintaining a lifetime ban why are we rushing headlong into this?

“If we have a system that is working why should I take any element of risk in that instance.”

The Democratic Unionist minister then accused judges of undermining Christian values. “Shame on the courts for going down the road of constantly attacking Christian principles, Christian ethics, Christian morals, which this society was based on and gave us a very good foundation,” he added.

Sinn Fein Assembly Member Maeve McLaughlin welcomed the motion in the Assembly, calling on the Health Minister to lift the blood donations ban.

As Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, she said it was a vote in favour of equality and against discrimination.

“The ban on blood donations from members of the gay community is clearly out of step with the majority of society and Edwin Poots needs to reverse that ban,” she said.

“A judge has already ruled that the Minister is in breach of the ministerial code and has behaved irrationally when it came to this legislation.

“Public confidence needs to be restored and the Minister has already made a fool of himself and wasted public money by fighting equality.”

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.

The DUP Assembly Member also used £40,000 of public money in order to fund a legal challenge to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children.

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.

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

The High Court in Belfast ruled Mr Poots breached the ministerial code in continuing the ban last month.

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