Bid to pass organ donation law at Westminster ‘highly unlikely’ to succeed

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A proposal to pass a stalled organ donation law at Westminster rather than at Stormont is “highly unlikely” to succeed, the Government has warned.

The Northern Ireland Office expressed doubt about a DUP plan to implement the law by tabling an amendment to a piece of scheduled legislation.

The DUP proposal to amend the Executive Formation Bill comes as the party is coming under increasing pressure to drop its continuing block on powersharing at Stormont to facilitate the passing of the regulations required to introduce the opt-out organ donation system in Northern Ireland.

The Executive Formation Bill, which is scheduled to be brought before Westminster later this month, deals with the legislation required to extend a deadline for holding a fresh Assembly election in Northern Ireland.

It will be for the Speaker’s Office at Westminster to decide whether to permit the DUP’s planned amendment on the organ donation regulations.

The NIO has cast doubt on the prospect of it being permitted, saying the scope of the Bill is very narrow.

The DUP is adamant that it will not end its boycott to allow a Stormont speaker to be nominated at a recalled sitting of the Assembly on Tuesday.

Without a speaker in place, the devolved legislature will be unable to pass the regulations.

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

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.

The opt-out system would mean adults 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.

Organ donation legislation
Daithi MacGabhann outside Hillsborough Castle (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has told the parties that the most straightforward way of passing the legislation is at Stormont.

On Monday, an NIO spokesman said: “The Department for Health has laid the statutory rule to enable the Assembly to progress the legislation, meaning that the election of a speaker would allow this important and life-saving piece of legislation to be addressed this week.

“The Executive Formation Bill is focused solely on the Executive formation period and the secretary of state’s corresponding election duty and, as such, it consists of only one substantive clause only.

“The scope of the Bill is therefore very narrow, and amendments on issues other than the Executive formation period are highly unlikely to be in scope.

“The secretary of state urges the NI parties to come together on this and reminds them that people in Northern Ireland expect and deserve the devolved institutions to be functioning fully.”

Daithi underwent another heart procedure in England last week.

His father, Mairtin MacGabhann, has implored the region’s politicians to do all they can to get the law implemented.

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said that the recall of the Assembly on Tuesday, initiated by Sinn Fein, was about “stunt politics rather than restoring powersharing”.

He reiterated his party’s position that it will not take part in the Assembly until unionist concerns around the Brexit protocol are addressed.

He said the legislation necessary to fully enact Daithi’s Law can be tabled and enacted at Westminster, adding: “Organ donation should not be used as blackmail for the return of devolution.

“When the Assembly was last recalled in December, we were told that the £600 energy support payments would not be delivered without a functioning Stormont.

“We made clear then that those payments could be processed and delivered through Westminster and that fuel poverty should not be used as political leverage. The payments have been made and before the rest of the UK.

“Likewise, the legislation necessary to fully enact Daithi’s Law can be tabled and enacted at Westminster and organ donation should not be used as blackmail for the return of devolution.

“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP leader) will work with the Government and the House of Commons speaker to table an amendment to the Executive Formation Bill in Parliament.

“There will be no restoration of the NI Assembly and Executive until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that unionists, as well as nationalists, can support.”

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said his party will be in the Assembly chamber on Tuesday in an effort to elect a speaker and pass the necessary regulations.

He urged “no more delay in getting this legislation into law”.

Mr Sheehan added: “We owe it to little Daithi and all those people desperately waiting on an organ transplant.

“I would urge all parties to work together in the Assembly on Tuesday and let’s get this done.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the DUP’s refusal to enable the Assembly to sit was “unedifying and serves no purpose”.

She said: “Alliance will use every avenue open to us to get the relevant regulations approved so the new law comes into operation.

“However, the fact is, the quickest and surest way of achieving this would be via the election of a speaker and the sitting of the Assembly at Stormont tomorrow. No other route carries any guarantee.

“The regulations are already drafted and ready to go. There is neither excuse nor reason for further delay. The DUP needs to stop playing games with people’s lives and get on with the job its MLAs were elected to do.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie said the onus was on Mr Heaton-Harris to act on the new organ donation law.

“I don’t believe the sitting of the Assembly will achieve anything other than straining relations further,” he said.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will be there, but we know that the DUP will not allow a speaker to be elected and business will conclude. So, the onus is still on the secretary of state to act to prevent further delay to the organ donation legislation.

“I find this situation deeply frustrating. We are seeing issues now starting to pile up while Stormont remains idle.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the Assembly recall is an “opportunity for MLAs to come together and deliver something that would make a real difference to the lives of many people across the North”.

“The SDLP will be at Stormont tomorrow giving our full support to Daithi’s Law and expressing our solidarity with the MacGabhann family, but we will also be warning the DUP that if they continue to put their selfish identity politics above the needs of people across the North then inevitably people will begin to consider change to attain a better future for themselves and their families,” he said.

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