Tag Archives: Stormont

Democratic in name alone #equalmarriage

Today is the morning after a momentous day.

For the first time ever a majority of Northern Irish legislators in either a Westminster or Stormont vote have actually voted in favour of some step towards LGBT+ equality. Yes with 53 in favour and 51 against yesterday the rights of LGBT+ individuals reached a tipping point as never before.

Sadly of course this tipping point also simultaneously gave Northern Ireland an unwelcome entry into the record books. The Assembly yesterday became the first Legislature in the World to vote in favour of marriage equality while simultaneously blocking the same Legislature from progressing that equality measure. The reason of course if the so called “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP).

In the past the DUP have argued that there was a need for a petition of concern because there was not majority support for marriage equality within the general population. This of course is not an opinion that has been borne out in independent scientific polling evidence in recent years.

Now their Chief Whip the North Down MLA Peter Weir says:

“If it requires a process of attrition to alter a result it does not demonstrate a great deal of force behind the argument.”

However, that is not the case through history. A process of attrition led to the abolition of slavery. Rights for workers. Votes for women. Non conformist emancipation from the established church. Devolution/Home Rule for (Northern) Ireland and Scotland. Civil rights for Jews, Blacks and Roman Catholics and indeed the legalisation of homosexuality. The fact that Peter Weir uses that argument against yesterday’s vote in the NI Assembly shows an ignorance of political history and disrespect of how minorities have always had to get their place as equals recognised by those with privilege.

The DUP are not Democratic, yesterday they have blocked progress a mantra of their newest MLA Emma Pengilly. She is in quite a different position from the UUP’s newest MLA Andy Allen who not only was the only of his party to vote in favour but also made an excellent speech laying out his position.

Yesterday was a morale victory which the LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland and their families and friends will have to remember when if comes to the ballot in the next year for a new Assembly. It also means that the DUP have given additional strength to the argument for a judicial review into the unequal state of marriage across the UK and island of Ireland. Now it is not being blocked by a majority vote in the Assembly but by a Petition of Concern being used to keep a minority less equal.

To all those MLAs who have come along a journey on the five votes in the Assembly we want to say thank you. We know you have been getting a lot of emails and letters from both sides of this debate and taken your time to weigh up what is right. It has not been attrition but good old fashioned lobbying, something that is a democratic right of the people in our nation to ask their representative for a fair and honest hearing of their views. Sadly it is a part of grown up politics that the DUP do not seem to acknowledge but it is something that Northern Ireland needs as we move forward.

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, history, law, NI Assembly

New term, same old prejudice

The MLAs are back up on the hill but already the list of motions and proposed amendments makes for horrid reading for the LGBT community.

One of North Down’s DUP MLAs Peter Weir on the 1 September one that reads:

Equal Marriage

That this Assembly notes that numerous Motions have reaffirmed that no support exists for the introduction of equal marriage; and agrees that further consideration would be pointless during the remainder of this Assembly term.

In other words seeking to place an almost 2 year petition of concern on any further discussion on the issue until after the elections in May 2016. This would even therefore no doubt continue the DUP’s contempt of judicial process were a legal challenge be raised in Northern Irish courts about the inequality of equal marriages from the rest of the UK being only recognised a civil partnerships here, or the fact that LGBT people here do not have equal access to marriage as the remainder of the UK.

There is also one that is more innocently worded again from Mr Weir and his West Tyrone colleague Tom Buchanan:

Conscience Clause

That this Assembly notes the increasing number of cases across the UK in which the freedom of religion is afforded a lesser priority than other fundamental freedoms; acknowledges that this gradation of fundamental rights often leads to people of faith leaving their employment or being forced out of business; and calls on the Minister for Employment and Learning to bring forward legislation to introduce a conscience clause for people of faith to allow them to exercise religious freedom in the workplace.

This is the oh my god moment, pardon the pun. For a start freedom of religion is not afforded anything less than other freedoms, they are all treated equally. But the wording of this clause is to make freedom of religion superior to all others. Allowing people of faith the ability of exercise their religious freedom in the workplace means that small business owners could because of the loose wording of this proposal refuse to serve people whose lifestyle they disagree with. We all know that this will not necessarily affect unmarried heterosexuals in the same way that it will affect homosexuals. If two men or women walk in together some of those who cry out about their religious freedom are far more likely to turn them away than two people of opposite sex.

This is further backed up by another DUP motion in the name of Paul Girvan (Lagan valley) and Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) which names a specific high profile case of the above:

Reasonable Accommodation in Equality Legislation

That this Assembly notes with concern the action taken by the Equality Commission against Ashers Bakery; and calls for a review of equality legislation that will provide reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of service providers in the provision of goods, services and facilities.

The fact is that of course initially this business took and order then under discussion turned it down. The proximity of a bakery to the city centre must surely mean that they must get all manner of requests for custom cakes for organisations based in the city centre does Ashers have to agree with the aims of every one of them before taking an order? This is company who has claimed that they faith is paramount yet while their shops themselves are closed on a Sunday in respect of their faith their products are available in Garden Centres and shops that do open on a Sunday with their branding on them. But it is another call for a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs again against only one other minority sector as laid out in Section 75.

Of course all of these have merely been laid before the business committee there is no date for when or even if they will come before the committee but there are three direct attacks on the LGBT community one clear it its intention that no matter what progress may be made elsewhere on equal marriage there is no way that the DUP is going to allow legislation to move on before 2016.

The other two are more thinly veiled but a reading between the lines of them shows what their intent is. The conscience clause was mentioned in light of the Ashers case and it was clear that the DUP spokespeople wanted to have religious freedom usurp equality irregardless of sexual orientation.

So there are three motions laid down by members of the DUP that aim to either place religion above the rights of LGBT people to be treated equally, and in one a way to stifle debate for 2 years on an issue that is fast changing across the USA and the world as we speak. The continuation of the DUP to institutionalise their homophobia through the niceties of Assembly procedure and their veiled attempt to bring in animal farm style all freedoms are equal but some are more equal than others is a horrifying read in this the 21st Century.

 

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Filed under Equal Marriage, equality, faith, homophobia, NI Assembly, Stormont

Statement on marriage equality debate

This afternoon Stephen Glenn, co-ordinator of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland, sat in the gallery of the Assembly while our MLAs debated the motion from the Green Party and Sinn Féin about marriage equality. He was not alone as a large number of equal marriage campaigners were there in the hope that the DUP’s petition of concern would prove to be the only way this motion could be defeated. Sadly it was defeated by four votes even without it.

Forty five of our MLAs did vote for it, one sole unionist voice, that of Basil McCrea spoke in favour despite saying “many in my community are deeply uneasy about it”. He went on to challenge those who said we cannot redefine marriage by pointing out that our state had in the past about many reformed groups including Presbyterians. Before saying something that pretty much summed up the concept of this motion:

“Allowing one group to use a word does not diminish its use by another, and the context will be understood by all. Society accepting equal marriage does not mean that everyone has to agree with the practice.”

However, one minister speaking in a ‘personal’ capacity said the motion was ‘pointless’ and a ‘worthless course to follow’. Another, who responsibility presenting the legislation would be said “I have no intention of bringing forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage” even before a democratic vote was taken on the issue to ask him to do so.

Speaking after the debate Stephen Glenn said:

“It was great to have this debate take place in Stormont today, it is sign that we have come a long way. I’d like to praise those MLAs and parties that have taken a stance today for equal marriage and the LGBT community, even though the votes did not go in favour. I know that many have come on a long journey both individually and collectively to stand beside the LGBT community today on this issue.

“However, it is sad that a Democratic Unionist Minister should state in his speech that he would fail to act even if a democratic vote, not then taken, asked him to on this matter. While another unionist minister considered it pointless and a worthless cause. This isn’t a sectarian issue despite the petition of concern and how the vote looked today, and I’d particularly like to thank Basil McCrae and his two party colleagues for their support in the division today.

“Bizarrely, after the Covenant celebrations, it seems the unionist side is less able to debate civil freedoms without religious overtones as those that feared Home Rule would bring a hundred years ago. So even though a motion on a tough issue managed to address civil and religious freedom for all it was knocked down. In the words of Mr Wilson they have chosen a road and are unable to facilitate, or even contemplate trying to facilitate other routes.

“However, with 45 MLAs voting for we know that the pendulum of political and public opinion has swung a fair way from previous debates on LGBT issues.”

Local party chair John O’Neill added:

“It is profoundly disappointing, to the NI Liberal Democrats, and to all the people of Northern Ireland, that the Assembly has voted to reject marriage equality. The agreements which instituted the Assembly, and from which its authority is derived, have at their heart equality of citizenship. Not just across the Unionist-Nationalist dyad, but across the whole of the increasingly diverse Northern Ireland, which we all celebrate.

“It is sad that the political representatives of the first nation within the United Kingdom to institute Civil Partnerships have today rejected the obvious next step in the full equalisation of same-sex relationships. However, we are confident that, as debate on this matter continues at Westminster, Cardiff and Holyrood, this is not the last time that this matter will be addressed at Stormont. We are confident also that our MLAs will look to the decisions made in other capitals of the UK, and will not impose second-class citizenship upon the Lesbian and Gay citizens of Northern Ireland.

“Meanwhile,we will continue to work to persuade others both in office and those who elect them to achieve our party’s policy on equal marriage here in Northern Ireland, as our colleagues do so elsewhere in the UK.”

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Poots lacks consistency on blood

Edwin Poots gathering his own evidence?

On Sunday Politics Northern Ireland today, Edwin Poots calls all MSM sexual activity ‘risky’ he then went on to say that he would want to see all ‘risky behaviour’ by his definition treated the same way, going on to name two examples. Those examples were people who slept with prostitutes and those who had sex with people from sub-Saharan Africa.

Now if Mr Poots wants consistency they let him bring it about.

For years the two groups he honed in on have been subject to a deferral period before returning to donating blood.

Indeed if you read the National Blood Transfusion service website you will see this:

You should not give blood for 12 months after sex with:

A man who has had sex with another man (if you’re a female).

A prostitute.

Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.

Anyone with haemophilia or a related blood clotting disorder who has received clotting factor concentrates.

Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa.

You see these groups have long been subject to a deferral period so that blood borne diseases can incubate and be detected at a future date. So why does it not apply to men who have had sex with other men (MSM)? After all a woman who has sex with a MSM can give blood again after 12 months. This was one anomaly for wives of bisexual men and remains so under Northern Ireland’s lifetime ban.

But either Poots doesn’t know about this or he is going to put an even bigger strain on Northern Ireland blood stocks by taking these other groups up to a life time ban.

He is also in refusing to lift the lifetime ban putting all men who haveEVER had sex with another man even years ago in the same bracket as people who:

  • have worked as a prostitute
  • have injected themselves with drugs
  • have ever had syphilis, HTLV (Human T – lymphotropic virus), HIV or hepatitis C

That is quite a statement he is making especially to those men who have not had sex with other men in a long time. As Health Committee chair Sue Ramsey says:

“We are crying out for blood donation… we have had to bring in blood from England, Scotland and Wales because we need it.

“There are people here willing to give blood and like anybody who has given blood, it will be screened, so we shouldn’t be going down this line of his own prejudice coming into play.”

What is more one of the correspondences that Poots quoted as helping him make up his mind was from the Irish Health Minister saying that their were no plans there to lift their lifetime ban. This despite his Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh counterparts all taking an alternate view which Sinn Féin’s Ramsey is advocating.

It is a moment that Sinn Féin take the UK line while the DUP seem to have lined up the Republic of Ireland, but then we are used to DUP Minister’s following the rest of the UK when it suits them, but on LGBT issues that tends to not be an area that they like being the same as the United Kingdom.

On the same day the UUP take the whip away from Lord Maginnis for is comments about gay sex, we end up having the DUP by their actions and words in Government tarred with the same brush.

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Poots knowledge of blood shown to be lacking

Let me start by giving you a dictionary definition:

haemophilia UShemophilia [ˌhiːməʊˈfɪlɪə ˌhɛm-]

(Medicine / Pathology) an inheritable disease, usually affecting only males but transmitted by women to their male children, characterized by loss or impairment of the normal clotting ability of blood so that a minor wound may result in fatal bleeding.

Straight forward enough you would think. Haemophilia is a hereditary not a communicable disease.
Well not if you are the Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots. In Private Eye you will find this:

Somehow Northern Ireland’s health minister has meet people who have become haemophiliacs through blood donations. Maybe this was the secret blood-borne infections that the minister alluded to.

But if he has found a case in which haemophilia is being passed on through donations surely he should be banning all women from giving blood? If that is the case how can he possibly make up the shortfall? Maybe, he will have to come to a swift decision allowing men who have had sex with other men to give blood in the same way that they can in the rest of the UK.

The minister has yet again this evening avoided debate on the issue of the Northern Irish blood ban on the Stephen Nolan TV Show. Stephen empty chaired the minister and asked the chair some very telling questions that the public deserve answers to, as well as a couple of questions from the chair. If he keeps dodging the questions we can only assume that his reasons for not lifting the blood-ban are based on evidence at all.

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Stigma not Science: Keeping the Blood Ban in Northern Ireland

LGBT Lib Dem NI Coordinator Stephen Glenn speaking in an earlier debate at Lib Dem Conference

Our LGBT Coordinator Stephen Glenn was delighted to see the motion Science Not Stigma: Lifting the Blood Ban passed at the Liberal Democrats Autumn conference on Tuesday. It was an issue he had spoken on, without notes, very emotively 2 years ago at the Scottish Lib Dem Conference. He had been prepared to speak on this at Federal Level but he had been called already in an earlier motion.

The motion was to take things further than the 12 month deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) that is to come into force in England, Wales and Scotland on 7 November; instead of the previous life time ban. It calls on actual risk posed by the behaviour of the individual, not their membership of a certain societal grouping to be the reason for preventing someone giving blood. It calls the deferral period a ban by another name.

This is all very good stuff. We should really be looking at the science that is involved not penalise people in monogamous relationships, who practice safe sex simply because the person that do that with happens to be another man.

It is just that issue of science not stigma that lead to Stephen’s dismay when he returned from conference to find that Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots has even refused to take the advise of the Government’s Advisory Council on Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs to even bring in the 12 month deferral period. This shows the stigmatism that the LGBT community is still viewed with in Northern Ireland. He said:

“Blood-borne infections, well-recognised or as yet undiscovered, have the potential to destroy healthy lives. Public safety must be my primary concern, and I want the Northern Ireland public to have maximum confidence in our blood supply.”

One does have to wonder what if the next as yet undiscovered blood borne disease is something that females carry if he would have to ban hetersexuals from giving blood. Also how is waiting for something to be discovered a policy based on science.

The UUP’s health spokesperson John McAllister said

“We cannot turn willing blood donors away because of out-dated and irrational prejudice.”

While Michelle Gildenew who holds the same role with Sinn Féin added:

“This is just feeding into the discrimination that people from the gay, lesbian and bi-sexual community already suffer.

“It goes without saying that we need to have robust screening of blood, whoever it comes from.”

Rainbow Project Director John O’Doherty backs up what the Lib Dems are saying about science not stigma when he said:

 “If the minister truly wanted to minimise the risk in blood management he should be listening to the experts and ensuring that assessments are carried out on the basis of risk not sexual orientation.

“There is a serious need for more blood donors and a lifetime ban for any section of our community that is not based on actual scientific evidence is discriminatory.

“Since the decision has not been taken on the basis of scientific evidence I must call into question the minister’s motivation on this issue which appears to be homophobia, not healthcare.”

So does Edwin Poots claim to have greater scientific knowledge than 13 Doctors, 2 Professors and 7 others who formed the SaBTO Review Group? He seems to think he is.

Now if the advise he as a Unionist politician was being asked to consider came from Ireland you might expect him to reject it. But he is a unionist who has just declared scientific independence from the rest of Union. How can he be a Unionist that denies the scientific facts and consensus of that Union?

Indeed as Michael points out on the Lib Dem NI blog John O’Doherty has also asked does the health minister expect the people of Northern Ireland to be self sufficient in their own blood and blood products supply? Because without being so we may well have a risk of MSM blood entering the veins of Northern Irish citizenry.

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Time for Poots to catch up on blood

Edwin Poots can give blood will he expand those who can?

Edwin Poots can give blood will he expand those who can?

As our Northern Ireland LGBT co-ordinator posted yesterday on his own blog, from 7 November there will be a loosening of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with other men (MSM) from giving blood in the UK. At least there will be in England, Wales and Scotland, because as you may have guessed the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots, has yet to say if Stormont will follow suit.

The ban in England, Wales and Scotland will still be in place for MSM who have same-sex relations in the last twelve months. This does lift the ban on those sexually active bisexuals in mixed sex relationships and men who man have had a brief dalliance years ago. However, the ban still discriminates against monogamous MSM couples, those who practise safe sex continually (the man originally denies men who have sex with other men either anally or orally with or without a condom) and those who have a continuous trackable clean bloods record.

Giving blood is something that people do responsibly, just as having an up to date idea of your STI status is for the LGB community. There are already MSM who are sexually active but know that they are in monogamous long-term relations, know their STI status who give blood by lying on the Blood Transfusion Service forms. Lifting the lifetime ban to replace with one that is for 12 months.

The reason  the government’s advisory committee on the Safety of Bloods, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) give was because of hepatitis B. If this is the only reason for excluding MSM within 12 months, those with a traceable bloods history through Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinics or their GP should not be excluded. The reason? GUM clinics offer inoculation against Hep B and C as part of their service provision, with booster shots when they are required. Indeed it is a standard question when arriving for the first time or transferring your testing when did you last have a Hep shot. If the answer is unknown you are given a course of shots.

Therefore while there may be a higher occurance of Hepatitis in the MSM community those who are responsible enough to undergo regular screening are likely to be inoculated from the one reason SaBTO give for maintaining a 12 month referral period on MSM.

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