The current ban on gay men being blood donors is bringing shame to Northern Ireland, student union officials at the annual NUS-USI conference are set to claim.

The conference, organised by the National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland, began today in County Fermanagh.

Health Minister Edwin Poots came under heavy criticism for his decision to keep the ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, even after it was announced that the ban would be lifted in Great Britain.

Adrianne Peltz, president of NUS-USI, said the organisation wanted to see equality across the society. She added: “That’s why at this year’s conference will also be raising the issue of putting more pressure on the Health Minister to remove the despicable ban on gay men from donating blood, which has been lifted in other parts of the UK.”

“For a ban to exist on gay men giving blood is an absolute disgrace as it flies in the face of equality and fairness,” she said. Think of the appalling message that this ban sends out. The fact that this blood donation ban is being lifted elsewhere but still exists here brings shame on Northern Ireland… For government to fail to lift the ban would be scandalous. As well as this being a key equality issue, we also need more blood donors here and this is literally a matter of life and death for a significant number of people in Northern Ireland.”

A spokesperson for the department for health told the Associated Press: “The Minister has not yet made a final decision on this matter. He has asked for further information regarding the level of risks. Before making a final decision the Minister will consider all the relevant evidence and will take into account the issue of wider public confidence.”