Northern Ireland lifts its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood

LGBT activists warn one-year deferral system will only allow small numbers to donate

Northern Ireland lifts its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood

Photocall file photo

A controversial lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland has been lifted.

Men who have sex with men will now be able to donate 12 months after their last sexual encounter, as long as they meet the other criteria.

The decision comes after a long campaign by gay rights activists and a series of court battles.

The change in policy was first announced by Minister of Health Michelle O’Neill in June.

A similar ban ended in 2011 in England, Scotland and Wales, which also have a one-year deferral system.

Here in the Republic, Minister Simon Harris has also committed to removing a prohibition on donations by gay men.

The bans were introduced in the 1980s in response to the emergence of Aids.

Ms O’Neill said in a statement that every blood donation will be tested for HIV and 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," she said.

"These rules are in place to protect the health of donors and of patients who receive blood transfusions."

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.

Northern Irish LGBT group Rainbow Project cautiously welcomed the move, warning that the deferral system will likely allow only a small number to donate.

John O’Doherty, its director, said: "Some media outlets seem to be expecting crowds of gay and bisexual men to line up to donate blood tomorrow.

"This is not going to happen. While we were hugely thankful to Health Minister Michelle O’Neill … replacing a lifetime ban with a ban on those who have not had sex within the past 12 months was unlikely to lead to any substantial numbers of gay and bisexual men donating blood because many of them, like the rest of the population, have had sex at least once this year ...

"There must be a recognition that two men in a monogamous relationship pose zero risk to the blood supply. They cannot magically create HIV between them.

"And yet as long as they have sex they will never be allowed to donate blood. This is not science, it is stigma."