DUP under mounting pressure to drop Assembly veto to let organ donor law pass

The case of six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann, who is waiting a heart transplant, has become the focus of the political debate on the Stormont impasse.
DUP under mounting pressure to drop Assembly veto to let organ donor law pass

By David Young and Jonathan McCambridge, PA

The DUP is facing mounting calls to drop its block on the Stormont Assembly sitting so that a stalled organ donation law can be implemented in Northern Ireland.

The planned law, named after six-year-old Belfast boy Daithí MacGabhann, who is waiting a heart transplant, has become a touchstone issue in the political debate around the powersharing impasse at Stormont.

However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson reiterated on Friday that his party would not return to Stormont unless issues of concern around the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved and accused the UK Government of using the issue as “blackmail”.

The opt-out donation system was passed by MLAs last year but the secondary legislation required to implement it cannot be approved in the Assembly due to the current political stalemate.

Organ donation legislation
Seph Ni Mheallain with her six-year-old son Daithi MacGabhann at Hillsborough Castle for a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP is preventing the functioning of both the Assembly and the ministerial executive in protest at the post-Brexit protocol.

Only the Assembly would need to be up and running to pass the regulations required to implement the opt-out organ donation system.

Daithi underwent another heart procedure in England this week.
On Friday, his father Mairtin MacGabhann implored the region’s politicians to do all they could to get the law implemented.

“We’ve just got this get this done. Come on,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“Daithi deserves it. The organ donation and transplantation community deserve it.

“I’ve said it before, it’s much more than Daithi’s Law, it’s the beacon of hope.

“It’s the hope that the transplantation and organ donation community here, we just need a wee bit of hope at the moment.”

On Thursday, former DUP first minister Paul Givan said the party would meet on Monday to consider its position.

The issue is likely to come to a head next week as Sinn Féin has initiated a motion to recall the Assembly in an attempt to get a Speaker elected.

Several previous recalls of the Assembly have all ended in failure due to the DUP’s stance on preventing the election of a Speaker.

“We’ll be having a group meeting on Monday morning and we’ll take a position as to the approach that we take,” Mr Givan told the BBC’s The View programme.

But party leader Sir Jeffrey said on Friday that the issue could be dealt with at Westminster with an amendment he has introduced to the Executive Formation Bill.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has raised concerns that this route would take longer and might prove difficult. It is unclear whether the scope of the Executive Formation Bill would be wide enough to permit the addition of such an amendment.

Sir Jeffrey said: “The Government has had more than two years to deal with the protocol.

“The fact that the imposition of the protocol has caused the collapse of devolved government was entirely predictable.

“There will be no return to devolved government until the protocol is dealt with decisively and we have arrangements that unionists, as well as nationalists, can support.

“Parliament is sovereign and has responsibility for Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

“I have written to the Secretary of State and indicated I will table an amendment in Westminster on February 22nd to enable the completion of Daithi’s Law by the springtime as originally planned.”

The opt-out system would mean people in Northern Ireland would be presumed to be donors, unless they take a decision to opt out. It is being implemented to increase donation rates in the region.

While the Government has been urged to pass the legislation at Westminster, Mr Heaton-Harris wrote to all the Stormont parties on Thursday insisting the return of the Assembly was the “quickest, most straightforward” path to pass the law.

He told politicians in a letter that they could progress the legislation in a single Assembly sitting by electing a Speaker, and without the need to nominate a First Minister and deputy First Minister and reform the executive.

Paul Givan DUP MLA said his party will consider the issue at a meeting on Monday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr MacGabhann said the renewed focus on the issue this week had increased his hopes that the laws could potentially be passed at Stormont.

“I have a bit more faith it could potentially go through the Assembly, however, that faith isn’t quite high,” he said.

He added: “There’s nothing more important to me than Daithi’s health first of all, but Daithi’s Law in the political world, so there’s nothing more important.

“And if this is a possibility through the Assembly, whether it’s an Assembly, whether it’s Westminster, we will look at all avenues and we will put the pressure on all the parties because, to be honest, I have no loyalties to any of the political parties. My loyalty is to Daithí.”

On Friday, the chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Simon Hoare heavily criticised the ongoing failure to pass the laws at Stormont.

“It’s appalling. It’s a dereliction of duty and it is political self-service rather than public service,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“What Daithí’s father is asking for, it is not exceptional, what he is asking for is proper functioning politics to deliver some health outcomes.

“That is a perfectly legitimate expectation for the general public to have of elected politicians.

“Health matters are devolved, perfectly properly should be dealt with in Stormont.

“The negotiations (over the Northern Ireland Protocol) are ongoing between the Foreign Office, not a devolved issue.

“So my prayer is that the parties will listen to a father’s voice, will come together next week to elect a Speaker and to start to deliver on the modest and legitimate aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland.

“The decision to press the pause button is now starting to hurt people in real everyday lives. Now is not a time for politicians to sit on the sidelines twiddling their thumbs.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more