Alliance Party: Northern Ireland Health Minister is a disgrace for wasting public money on a homophobic blood ban

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party has slammed Health Minister Edwin Poots for continuing his “crusade” against lifting a lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in the province.

Alliance Health spokesperson Kieran McCarthy was commenting after Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham criticised UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for appealing against a 2013 court ruling requiring Mr Hunt to decide if Northern Ireland should continue with its lifetime ban.

Mr McCarthy, an Alliance member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said: “This legal challenge will only add further delay to gay men being allowed to donate blood. The lifetime ban has already been removed in the rest of the UK – it should also be removed in Northern Ireland.

“It is disgraceful that Edwin Poots is continuing to waste taxpayers’ money on a personal crusade. The Minister still has the power to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. His continued refusal to do so highlights his prejudice and petty narrow mindedness.

“I am worried that the decision by the Health Minister to challenge the High Court ruling will leave us in a legal limbo that will only kick this issue further down the line. I would urge the Minister to drop his legal challenge and allow Northern Ireland to be brought into line with the rest of the UK.”

Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane also criticised Mr Poots and Mr Hunt over their decision.

“I’m appalled that Edwin Poots is squandering public money to defend discrimination,” she said today.

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, Northern Ireland Health Minister 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.

Mr Poots has claimed his support for the lifetime ban is about protecting “the safety of blood”.

In September last year, 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.

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.

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

Mr Robinson defended Mr Poots’ decision and warned against any attempts by the UK Government to overrule.

On Monday, a UK Department of Health spokesperson said: “We have considered the potential implications of the judgement, both for blood donation and for devolution.”

UK Government sources have told that overruling Mr Poots could spark a new crisis with Mr Robinson.

The DUP leader has frequently threatened to resign as First Minister over several unrelated disagreements between Westminster and Stormont.