Stormont parties urged to work together to pass regulations for Daithi’s Law

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Stormont parties have been urged to work together to pass the necessary regulations in order for a stalled organ donation law to be implemented in Northern Ireland.

However, DUP MLA Gordon Lyons contended that a recall of the Assembly this week is about “stunt politics rather than restoring powersharing”.

MLAs have been recalled to Stormont on Tuesday in an attempt to elect a Speaker and hold a debate on the implementation of the legislation.

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

Assembly recalled to Stormont
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan at Stormont on Monday (Liam McBurney/PA)

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.”

Mr Lyons reiterated his party’s position that it will not take part in the Assembly until unionist concerns around Brexit’s Northern Ireland 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.

“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 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.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie said the onus is on Secretary of State Chris 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.

“I remain in disagreement with the DUP that the protocol is best dealt with by boycotting Stormont.

“We need to see the protocol replaced as it also has a growing impact in people’s everyday lives and on Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. But I do not think unionism is stronger for allowing the same people who agreed to the protocol to negotiate over our heads.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the DUP’s refusal to enable the Assembly to sit is “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.”

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.

Mr 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.

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.

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 last week.

Organ donation legislation
Six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann (Liam McBurney/PA)

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.

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

A Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “As the Secretary of State has previously stated, the quickest and simplest way to implement Daithi’s Law is for the NI parties to affirm the legislation in the NI Assembly.

“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.”

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