Gay blood donation ruling has ‘serious implications for devolution’
Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, has refused to condemn Health Minister Edwin Poots after he lost a legal challenge against his decision to retain the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men.
All mainland jurisdictions relaxed restrictions on donors whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago. Stormont had sought to maintain the lifetime ban citing safety concerns, but a judge ruled that they had no right to maintain the ‘irrational’ ban – a fact which led Robinson to claim that the ruling could have serious implications for devolution.
He has also ruled out disciplining Poots, who is a member of Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party, over a breach of the ministerial code of conduct. The court held Poots in breach of his duty to bring especially contentious issues before the full Northern Irish executive. Robinson claimed that Poots had acted in good faith, and that he expected an appeal against the ruling.
In the meanwhile, Poots is fighting to keep the legal advice he received before taking his controversial decision a secret.
Welsh First Minister sees “disaster” if Wales is not given borrowing powers
One billion pounds worth of planned road network improvements – planned, seemingly, on the presumption of powers the Welsh Assembly doesn’t actually have yet – “will not happen” if Cardiff isn’t vested with the power to run up public debt.
Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister, foresees ‘disaster’ if he and his government are not given the freedom to borrow: “We literally could not do things”. The prospect of there being things the Welsh Assembly cannot do – aside from being a fact of any union – is chilling indeed.
David Cameron denies actually blocking the progress of devolution in Wales, although as I mentioned before he maintains that the ‘Cardiff bubble’ is obsessed with powers at the expense of the economy and other issues.
Jones claims that he wants the powers granted swiftly so he can turn to the people of Scotland and say “this is an example of devolution working” – suggested a somewhat acquisitive definition of devolutionary success, as if the amassing of powers was an end in itself.
Regardless, Silk looks set to drag on for a while, possibly into 2014. At that point, it might just be worth parking it until the big, all-encompassing constitutional settlement we’re going to have to find to stabilise the UK constitution in the aftermath of the Scottish vote (whichever way they vote).
SNP accuse Better Together of costing them a by-election
The Scottish Nationalists have accused the pro-Union Better Together campaign of using a targeted mailshot, emphasising the terrible consequences of independence for shipbuilding and so on, to voters in Glasgow Govan two days before a by-election which saw Labour capture the formerly SNP council seat.
Better Together claim that the mailshot was timed to coincide with the publication of a UK government defence report, that it was sent to voters across an area far wider than the by-election battlefield, and that such mailshots are a regular part of their campaign and not sniper bullets aimed at SNP council seats.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar claimed that by wiping out the SNP in the Govan division of Glasgow Council voters were sending the SNP a powerful message to stop fixating on independence.
Nationalist addresses PUP conference for the first time
Noel Doran, the editor of the nationalist-leaning Irish News, addressed the conference of the Progressive Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s principal left-wing pro-Union outfit. He said that loyalists – a community with which the PUP has some affinity – had “got it wrong” when they staged months of protests against the ‘democratic decision’ of Belfast City Council to restrict the flying of the Union Flag over the City Hall. The PUP also passed a motion in favour of gay marriage.
The happy, progressive picture was marred somewhat by the need for the party to respond to an alleged loyalist attack on a woman in East Belfast. The attack, on Lord Street Mews, has been speculated to be the work of the UVF, one of the most violent loyalist terror groups during the Troubles. The PUP has some vulnerability on the subject of loyalist terror due another loyalist terror group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
Civil Servant’s union to decide stance on Scottish independence
The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents almost 30,000 employees of the UK and Scottish governments in Scotland, is to vote on its stance in the independence referendum in the new year. Members will be invited to choose between support for independence, fighting for the union, or remaining neutral.
Given that the union represents civil servants, one might have hoped that neutrality in the referendum would go without saying. Surely the last thing Scotland needs, as it moves on into whatever future it chooses in 2014 after what may well be a hard and divisive campaign, is a politicised civil service. We shall see.
In the meantime the union passed on a set of ‘industrial demands’, which included the public ownership of utilities and an end to austerity.