By Carmel Robinson
Current Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O’Neill announced that the ban will be lifted and replaced by a one-year deferral which will bring Northern Ireland into line with England, Scotland and Wales.
The decision means men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than 12 months ago will be free to donate blood if they meet the other donor selection criteria.
Men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past 12 months, with or without a condom, will still not be eligible to donate blood.
In announcing her decision to change to a one-year deferral, Michelle O’Neill said: “As Health Minister my first responsibility in this matter is patient safety. Surveillance data from England, Scotland and Wales and survey evidence from across Britain and the north of Ireland have provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral. My decision is based on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood.”
However previous minister Edwin Poots of the DUP had vehemently opposed such a move.
Mr Poots hit out at judges over one ruling on his controversial ban on blood from gay donors, accusing them of taking power away from elected representatives and attacking Christianity.
He also firmly rebuked the courts for “attacking Christian views and ethics”. In 2013 he said: “What we have witnessed is a degree of judicial activism that means that judges are making the laws, as opposed to Parliament, or in this case, the devolved administration making the laws.”
The DUP minister also revealed he and his family received abuse over the blood ban issue.
The change will be implemented by the Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) from September 1 and means the criteria will be in line with other groups who are deferred from giving blood for 12 months due to infection risks associated with sexual behaviours.
Michelle O’Neill said: “Blood donors save lives every day. The need is constant. That’s why donating blood is so important. Many of us would not have loved ones with us today were it not for the selfless acts of others.
“Our blood service is carefully managed to maintain a safe and sufficient supply of blood for transfusions. 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 that every donor complies with all the donor selection rules. These rules are in place to protect the health of donors and of patients who receive blood transfusions.”