With a new Northern Ireland Executive in office at Stormont following the recent election, it was hardly a surprise that there would be policy changes forthcoming. The new Health Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has taken a bold step and reversed the former policy on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland.
By this action, Minister O’Neill has brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Once again this shows how far politics in the North has come.
Minister O’Neill made her announcement while visiting Belfast’s LGBT Centre in Waring Street alongside her party colleague Cllr Mary Ellen Campbell, newly-elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast.
Speaking after the Minister‘s announcement, John O’Doherty, Director 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.
Questions must now be raised about the actions and policies of former DUP health minister, Edwin Poots and Jim Wells, both of whom backed the former ban (O’Hara, Victoria (21 January 2015). “Jim Wells: I back Edwin Poots’ gay blood ban”. Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 27 April 2015.)
Of course, not everyone is happy. Susan-Ann White, an unsuccessful Assembly candidate for West Tyrone, wrote on her blog, that
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and the First Minister of NI declared that she was “very happy” to agree with the decision of “Health” Minister Michelle O’ Neill.
It is an outrage that the NI Executive have taken this action and thereby endangered the health of the citizens of NI.
Mrs White’s blog is somewhat interesting reading for anyone who wishes to promote equality in Northern Ireland. It is a good reminder of just how far gay rights have come in recent years.
Announcing her decision to change to a one-year deferral, Michelle O’Neill said:
My first responsibility in this matter is patient safety. Evidence from across the UK has provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral. My decision is based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood.
The safety of donated blood depends on two things: donor selection and the testing of blood. Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms. Not even the most advanced tests are 100% reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them.
To allow the NI Blood Transfusion Service adequate preparation time, the new policy will come into effect on 1st September 2016.
Now that Sinn Féin has taken this step, will their new Finance Minister take the steps necessary to bring forward legislation to introduce equal marriage for all in Northern Ireland? Or will we have to wait for the Opposition parties at Stormont to do so?