Northern Ireland

NI leaders clash in fall-out from gay blood judgement

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Media captionDeclan Morgan said comments by Health Minister Edwin Poots were "detrimental to the rule of law"

Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have clashed in a row over a court judgement on gay men giving blood.

Last year, a judge ruled that the health minister's decision not to lift a ban on gay men giving blood was irrational.

Edwin Poots criticised the ruling, but said he did not think he would get a fair hearing at the Appeal Court.

The lord chief justice then wrote to the first and deputy first ministers.

In a strongly-worded letter, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan described Mr Poots' comments as "detrimental to the rule of law and unacceptable".

But it emerged at the weekend, that eight months after he sent the letter, the lord chief justice still had not received a reply.

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

"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," he said.

"My sympathy is totally and absolutely with Sir Declan Morgan and I think that the sooner the matter is resolved, the better."

Mr Poots was not available for comment on Monday.

A statement issued by the DUP does not mention the health minister's comments.

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Image caption Mr Poots said he did not think he would get a fair hearing if the case went to the Court of Appeal

However it does say Mr McGuinness was wrong to blame Mr Robinson for the absence of a response to the lord chief justice.

The DUP said the first minister 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.


Image caption Sir Declan Morgan sent the letter to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

Sir Declan Morgan released a copy of his letter - sent to the first and deputy first ministers eight months ago - to the BBC on Friday.

In it, he said it was entirely unacceptable for a minister to suggest that the Court of Appeal was biased or unfair.

It goes on to say that the statement is not only untrue, but also damaging to public confidence in the administration of justice.

"Regrettably, this is not the first time that I have had to raise such concerns, which only adds to the seriousness with which I view the matter," the letter states.

"Our system of government depends on mutual respect between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

"That is something which I wish to promote.

"These comments by Minister Poots, however, are damaging to the constitutional relationships and are not in the public interest."

Earlier this year the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt began a legal appeal after the judge ruled it was up to him to decide if gay men could donate blood in Northern Ireland. The ban was lifted in Britain in 2011.

Mr Poots has also begun a legal challenge to the ruling.

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