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Northern Ireland: Court ruling on blood donations could affect future of province

The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, has said that a looming court decision on blood donations from gay men could have a serious effect on the future of the province, reports the BBC.

The UK had had a policy of refusing blood donation from gay men in place since the HIV epidemic in the early to mid-1980s.

However, the rules were changed two years ago to reflect the significantly reduced likelihood of transmission from blood transfusion under modern testing and safety protocols.

Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland chose to maintain the ban, with the Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots citing safety concerns as the reason to support his decision.

Last week a Belfast judge ruled that Mr Poots did not have the appropriate authority to make a decision to maintain a lifetime ban and declared that he had breached the ministerial code of Northern Ireland by failing to put his decision in front of the Northern Ireland Executive.

The ministerial code requires ministers to consult the Executive before making contentious or significant decisions.

Now Northern Ireland's First Minister has said that he will support Mr Poots over claims he broke the ministerial code, and went further to suggest that many ministers were regularly in breach of the code, without consequence.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Robinson said that the ministerial code was a critical point.

"We believe that any major decision, any controversial decision should be brought to the Executive, but if every decision which is cross-cutting - which is virtually any spending decision at all - has to be brought to the Executive, then every minister falls foul," he said.

It is widely thought that the case will now go to appeal.