UK Government refuses to repeal Northern Ireland gay blood ban

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The UK Government has lodged an appeal against a ruling requiring Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to decide if Northern Ireland should continue with its lifetime ban on gay men giving blood.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has fought for many years to retain the ban, spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process.

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 or longer.

However, Mr Poots, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and known his anti-gay views, decided to retain the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland, despite widespread criticism from health experts, fellow politicians, and LGBT campaigners.

In October 2013, 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.

He added it was “irrational” that Mr Poots had retained the ban in Northern Ireland when the province was still able to accept blood supplies from the rest of the UK, where the prohibition had been lifted.

The judge also said the issue should not have been dealt with at Stormont in the first place, insisting it was a reserved matter and the responsibility of UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said the ruling had ramifications for the Stormont Executive and whole the process of devolution.

Conceding this point, the UK Department of Health (DH) said in November that “in England, we have made a different decision on the actual issue. In considering any health policy issue that affects all countries in the UK, we will focus on the implications for devolution.”

On Friday evening, the DH confirmed to that it had lodged its own appeal against Judge’s Treacy’s assertion that the blood ban was a reserved matter for Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Poots is appealing against the entirety of Justice Treacy’s ruling.

The UK Department of Health confirmed that any legal costs for its own challenge would be met from within its own budget.

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.

A joint statement on behalf of Mr Poots and Mr Hunt, released by the DHSSPS, said: “Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and the local DHSSPS have each lodged appeals to JR 65 on blood donor deferral,” it said.

“The decision in JR 65 potentially has wide-reaching consequences beyond the immediate subject matter of the case, and DHSSPS has strong legal advice recommending an appeal, and accordingly it is appropriate that those arguments should be presented to the Court of Appeal.

“It would not be appropriate for the department to comment further when an appeal to the court is pending.”