Northern Ireland’s health minister Edwin Poots says he won’t be “rushed, pushed or harassed” into making a decision on lifting the blood donation ban on gay and bisexual men.
Mr Poots announced last month that he would not lift the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood because of “public safety”, despite the rest of the UK switching to a one-year deferral period November 7th.
The health minister, who says he is “an opponent of the theory of evolution”, has been accused of homophobia.
Yesterday, he was questioned by the Stormont Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety yesterday on why Northern Ireland is not following England, Wales and Scotland.
Gay rights group the Rainbow Project has been pressuring Mr Poots to lift the ban and has said it may seek a judicial review of his decision.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, John O’Doherty, from the Rainbow Project, said: “We are unclear how the minister arrived at a different position from his counterparts in other parts of the UK. We need to know what medical advice he has received.”
Another representative from the Rainbow Project, Matthew McDermott, pointed out that Mr Poots said he would accept donated blood from England, Wales and Scotland which would presumably include blood from gay and bisexual men who have not had sex in the last 12 months.
The minister, who said he was still consulting with health experts, said: “I’m not apologising for taking a precautionary approach.
“Ultimately my responsibility is the safety of the public …I’m not going to be rushed, pushed or harassed.”
In September, UK health ministers announced that the rules would be relaxed in England, Wales and Scotland on November 7th – allowing gay and bisexual men to donate if they refrain from sex for 12 months.
The decision followed a review by the government’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).
Some campaigners have argued that any ban based on sexual orientation is discriminatory and may break European law.