Jeremy Hunt: Lifting the lifetime gay blood ban is a matter for Northern Ireland

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Lifting Northern Ireland’s lifetime ban on gay men giving blood is a matter for the province, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has stated.

Sein Fein and Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party say the lifetime ban has to be lifted.

In a statement on Tuesday, a UK Department of Health spokesperson said: “Men who have sex with men have been able to donate blood in England since November 2011. We believe that any decision on this issue in Northern Ireland is a matter for its devolved government and ministers.

“We are appealing against the judgement on the basis of the implications for devolution, not on the issue of men who have sex with men donating blood itself.”

Yesterday, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham criticised Mr Hunt for appealing against a 2013 court ruling requiring Mr Hunt to decide if Northern Ireland should continue with its lifetime ban.

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.

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.

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.

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.