No place in Mr Poots’s garden for Adam and Steve or Ellen and Eve
Opinion: Northern Ireland system allows minister to dictate law in defiance of the courts
Edwin Poots: following what he believes to be the natural order. Photograph: Kate Geraghty
I don’t know a couple called Adam and Steve but I know a woman who knows a couple called Ellen and Eve. Maybe one of this pair is the lesbian who the Supreme Court in London has ruled has the right to adopt her partner’s biological child. Not that the ruling means that she will automatically be able to exercise her right: this is Northern Ireland, after all, and the relevant minister is Edwin Poots.
In June, the North’s Court of Appeal accepted the argument made on the woman’s behalf by the NI Commission on Human Rights that legislation preventing adoption by civil partners breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and is therefore illegal. Health minister Poots appealed the decision. Last month, the Supreme Court dismissed his grounds for appeal.
Poots reacted to this development in the Assembly on Tuesday: “It is with disappointment that I note that the request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.
“I am currently carefully considering the implications for the Adoption and Children Bill, which is currently being drafted and which I intend to introduce in the Assembly next year.”
It might be thought that the implications of the ruling for adoption law need little consideration. The meaning is clear. There is no further avenue of appeal. But Poots is not a man to be daunted by such circumstance. He offered the Assembly no commitment to implement the ruling, but did take the opportunity to explain his thinking on the underlying issue: “When it comes to adoption, I’ve just come from an MLU [midwifery lead unit] in Lagan Valley today and all of the people that were giving birth in that unit were women and all of those women would not have been impregnated by another woman.
“The natural order – whether one believes in God or whether one believes in evolution – is for a man and a woman to have a child and therefore that has made my views on adoption very clear and on raising children very clear, that it should be a man and a woman that raises a child.”
It might be noted in passing that Poots holds that belief in God is incompatible with acceptance of evolution. Of more immediate relevance is the fact that he believes that Ellen and Eve’s relationship subverts the natural order and, implicitly, that the natural order trumps the law – British law, European law, any earthly law.
Poots is on a bad run as far as court rulings are concerned. On the 11th of last month, the High Court in Belfast described his maintenance of a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood as “irrational” and in breach of the ministerial code applying to all members of the Executive.
A complete ban on gay men giving blood was put in place across the UK in the 1980s. The ban was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011 and replaced by rules allowing blood to be accepted from men whose last sexual contact with another man had been more than a year prior to donation. In Northern Ireland, however, health having become a devolved matter in 1998, the total ban was left in place.
The High Court’s characterisation of this position as irrational arose from the fact that the North continues to import quantities of blood from Britain, where the ban no longer applies. Mr Justice Treacy also held that the issue involved was controversial rather than consensual; that it affected matters within the remit of more than one department; and that it raised questions of equality as defined in the 1998 agreement: it had therefore been incumbent on Poots to take the matter to the Executive for decision rather than make policy on the basis of his own view.
Poots has let it be known that he will be “considering” this ruling, too. First Minister Peter Robinson has speculated that his party colleague may appeal the decision – on the ground that Justice Treacy was wrong to suggest that Poots should have sought executive endorsement of the gay blood ban. Robinson hasn’t commented on the “irrational” aspect of the Treacy judgment.
The minister himself would tell the Assembly only that “I make it very clear that in terms of blood safety, that is purely about safety”. Again, no indication that he regards himself as bound by the court decision.
Expanding on his views on gay sexuality generally, Poots remarked enigmatically that there are straight men around “who would desire lots of other folks . . . But those of us who are married shouldn’t be doing that. People can resist urges.”
He concluded: “I would just encourage people to take a sensible and rational view of these issues.”
Under the rules of the Stormont game, only the DUP could remove Poots from office. This won’t happen. Allowing Edwin Poots to dictate health policy, even in defiance of the courts and in ways that are contrary to European human rights standards, is part of the price we pay to keep the game going.