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Northern Ireland: Top judge blasts ministers over lifetime gay blood ban row

September 11, 2014

Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers have clashed in a row over a court judgement about the province’s lifetime ban on gay men giving blood – following criticism by a senior judge of Health Minister Edwin Poots.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan revealed he has written to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness about a “lack of political regard for independent judicial decision making”.

But it emerged last weekend, that eight months after he sent the letter Lord Chief Justice Morgan still had not received a reply.

On Monday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness blamed the delay on First Minister Peter Robinson.

The BBC reports Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said: “The office of first minister and deputy first minister is a joint department, it requires agreement and it is no secret to anybody in this house that the first minister and I would have a different view of the remarks made by Minister Poots – not just by Minister Poots but by others even in the course of the last couple of days”.

Mr McGuinness added: “My sympathy is totally and absolutely with Sir Declan Morgan and I think that the sooner the matter is resolved, the better.”

In response, the DUP, the party of Mr Robinson and Health Minister Edwin Poots, said Mr McGuinness was wrong to blame Mr Robinson for the absence of a response to Lord Chief Justice Morgan.

The DUP said the first minister had drafted a reply in February indicating support for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and how important it was that no minister should say anything that would undermine that fundamental principle.

It said the draft had been shared with the deputy first minister’s office and that, to date, they had been unwilling to sign it.

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 Edwin Poots decided to retain the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland, despite widespread criticism from health experts, fellow politicians, and LGBT campaigners.

Last year, a judge ruled that the decision not to have the same policy as England, Wales and Scotland was irrational.

In a subsequent Assembly debate Mr Poots questioned whether he would get a fair hearing if he challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Morgan then suggested the comments were damaging to the rule of law.

The judge said he had sought an assurance that there would be no repetition.

The Belfast Telegraph reports he said: “Our democracy depends on upholding the rule of law and on mutual respect between the government and the judiciary.

“I have made conscious efforts to engage in a positive way with the executive and I have no wish to become embroiled in an unhelpful debate but I would have been failing in my duty if I had not written to the ministers to express concern over a lack of political regard for independent judicial decision making.”

Earlier this year, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt began a legal appeal after the High Court in Belfast ruled it was up to him to decide if the lifetime ban should go.

Mr Hunt said the matter should be resolved at Stormont. Mr Poots is continuing with his legal challenge against removing the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland.

More: Bisexual men, blood ban, blood donations, democratic unionist party, DUP, edwin poots, First Minister Peter Robinson, gay men, lifetime ban, martin mcguinness, Northern Ireland, Sein Fein

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