Northern Ireland’s new health minister relaxes gay blood ban

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Northern Ireland’s unjustified permanent ban on men who have sex with men donating blood will finally be axed – bringing rules in line with the rest of the UK.

In England, Scotland and Wales, men who have sex with men can give blood if they abstain from sex for 12 months – whereas in Northern Ireland they remain banned for life.

Since 2011, the country’s power-sharing executive had allocated the Health brief to the anti-LGBT Democratic Unionist Party, who refused to shift on the policy.

Former DUP minister Edwin Poots fought a costly legal battle to keep the ban despite the Health department admitting to having “no evidence” whatsoever for it. His replacement Jim Wells, who described LGBT pride as ‘repugnant’ and claimed gay parents abuse children, unsurprisingly also failed to make progress.

However, the position of Health Minister was last month handed to Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin – and just weeks on from the election, Ms O’Neill has announced the policy will be brought in line with the rest of the UK.

She will announce the change this afternoon.

Sinn Féin had pledged to end the blood ban in its manifesto.

Speaking after the Minister’s announcement, John O’Doherty of The Rainbow Project said: “We are delighted to welcome Minister O’Neill and Deputy Lord Mayor Campbell to the Belfast LGBT Centre today.

“From this centre, The Rainbow Project delivers counselling, sexual health testing and a range of other vital services for our community and so we are immensely proud that this is where the Minister made the announcement that she would be scrapping the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

“The Rainbow Project has been campaigning on this issue for over a decade and it is fantastic to finally see this unnecessary ban removed.

“We are particularly gratified that Minister O’Neill made this announcement only eight days after being appointed, demonstrating her commitment to prioritising issues affecting LGB&T people in Northern Ireland. We hope to continue our positive engagements with Minister O’Neill over the coming months and years.”

In England and Wales, the government is currently reviewing whether to relax the blood ban further, or alter it so it operates on factors other than sexuality.

Though the DUP no longer control health issues, changes elsewhere in the executive may hurt equality.

The Communities brief, which includes LGBT issues, has been handed to hardline anti-LGBT MLA Paul Givan, who is likely to block all major reform on LGBT issues. Givan previously submitted a ‘conscience’ bill that would permit religious discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The DUP also continues to veto all legislation on same-sex marriage.