Poots ‘was influenced by religion’

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Former health minister Edwin Poots’ ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland was influenced by his religious beliefs, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for a homosexual man claimed Assembly comments by the Democratic Unionist MLA for Lagan Valley show he wrongly allowed his Christian morals to impact on his stance.

They are now seeking a ruling that Mr Poots displayed apparent bias in maintaining the lifetime prohibition on gay donations.

Even though a judge has already held that the ban is irrational, he reached no conclusion on allegations that the decision was prejudiced by religious views.

Prior to departing from office Mr Poots launched an appeal against the verdict.

But the gay man who brought the original challenge, identified only as JR65, still wants a finding of apparent bias to be made.

Before the appeal can be heard the case has been referred back to Mr Justice Treacy to make a determination on that point.

Counsel for the former minister has consistently rejected claims that his position may have been influenced by religious views.

But JR65’s legal team now want to be allowed to introduce remarks Mr Poots made in the Assembly while allegedly talking about the case.

He is recorded as saying: “There is a continual battering of Christian principles, and I have to say this - shame on the courts, for going down the route of constantly attacking Christian principles, Christian ethics and Christian morals, on which this society was based and which have given us a very good foundation.”

David Scoffield QC, for JR65, argued that the comments clearly show a link between the gay blood ban and Mr Poots’ religious convictions.

“If the minister’s decision was nothing to do with morality and simply to do with public safety then the court’s decision on that would have nothing to do with religion or morality, but simply the evidence and rationality of the minister’s approach,” the barrister submitted.

Margaret Gray, responding for the former minister, claimed there was no justification for making a finding of apparent bias. Holding religious views cannot, on its own, be enough to establish suspicions of prejudice, she added. Following submissions, Mr Justice Treacy reserved judgment in the case.