Daithi’s family ‘disappointed and angry’ after meeting over organ law delay

The father of a six-year-old boy who is waiting for a heart transplant has said the family will consider legal action over delays to the implementation of organ donation laws in Northern Ireland.

Mairtin MacGabhann said he was “disappointed and angry” after meeting with the Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to discuss delays implementing the new laws in the region.

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

The legislation was due to be named Daithi’s Law, after six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann from Belfast, who is on the organ transplant waiting list.

Afterwards, Mairtin MacGabhann said Mr Heaton-Harris had told the family it would take too long for the Government to intervene and pass the laws at Westminster.

“Daithi’s Law deserves to have a go-live date in spring as planned but after the meeting today it looks like we’re not getting that,” he said.

He expressed concern that the family was being punished for the Stormont impasse and being used in a “political game of football”.

He said time was not on the family’s side as he stressed the seriousness of Daithi’s heart condition.

“We were at the funeral of a young boy last week who died of the same condition as Daithi, time is not on our side, we don’t have the time.

“That is what basically the Secretary of State said to us, that it will take too much time if it was to go through him.”

Organ donation legislation
Mairtin MacGabhann and his six-year-old son Daithi MacGabhann meets former Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan (right) outside Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

“He shared our frustrations with our politicians, but we already know that, we’re already frustrated with our politicians, the whole place is frustrated with our politicians.

“But our point was that there is no assembly and, without the assembly, this secondary legislation can’t go through.

“We’re bitterly disappointed and, to be honest, I’m just so angry at the whole situation.

“We told the Secretary of State that this is much bigger than Daithi’s Law, this is a beacon of hope for the organ donation and transplantation community here.”

Meanwhile, Mr Heaton-Harris told Stormont leaders he has asked officials to explore possible avenues to implement organ donation laws in the region in the absence of the powersharing institutions.

Last month, the five largest parties wrote to Chris Heaton-Harris urging him to intervene to implement the new organ donation law at Westminster.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he shared the family’s “deep disappointment” and “frustration” that the legislation may not be fully implemented by the spring as planned.

Organ donation legislation
Six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann outside Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

“The change to Northern Ireland’s organ donation law has been a long time coming and the MacGabhann family’s campaign was instrumental in generating momentum for the change to the law,” he wrote in a letter seen by the PA news agency.

“I am extremely frustrated that the inability of MLAs to elect a new speaker could cause delays to the introduction of life-saving legislation.

“That is why I want fully functioning devolved institutions to resume as soon as possible, so MLAs can get back to work and swiftly implement the law that Daithi and his family have campaigned so tirelessly for.

“I am asking my officials to explore possible avenues for the UK Government to progress this issue, should the Assembly fail to do so.”

In a statement released after his meeting with Daithi’s family, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “We all hope to see this law implemented by the spring as planned and I share their frustration that the political impasse in Northern Ireland is causing unnecessary delays to life-saving legislation.

“The quickest and simplest way to resolve the issue is if the Northern Ireland parties urgently get back to the Executive and govern in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Organ donation legislation
Paul Givan (left) meets with Mairtin MacGabhann (right) and his six-year-old son Daithi MacGabhann (Liam McBurney/PA)

He insisted Chris Heaton-Harris could move rapidly to implement the law at Westminster.

“The Secretary of State has this within his power to take through legislation rapidly at Westminster and the Government really do need to act because this is an issue that all of the parties in Northern Ireland have given support to,” he said.

Mr Givan added: “There is no excuse for the Secretary of State not to be moving this forward and it can be taken forward rapidly. The legislation is there.”

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