Northern Ireland

Dáithí's Law unlikely to passed next week as DUP continues to resist assembly recall

Dáithí MacGabhann after his operation in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Picture from Twitter
Dáithí MacGabhann after his operation in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Picture from Twitter

THE PROSPECT of getting Dáithí's Law passed by Stormont next week appears remote as the DUP continues to resist pressure to agree to an assembly recall.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party will meet on Monday morning to discuss a Sinn Féin-tabled recall petition that calls for the election of an assembly speaker, paving the way for the legislation to be passed.

However, the DUP leader accused Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris of "blackmail" after he said on Thursday that the quickest way to get Dáithí's Law on the statute books was via Stormont.

The organ donation opt-out scheme – named in honour of six-year-old Dáithí MacGabhann – was passed by MLAs a year ago but requires secondary legislation before it can become law.

Most of Stormont's parties support a recall but the DUP, which is boycotting the devolved institutions in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, has called on Westminster to pass the legislation.

Acting Stormont speaker Alex Maskey has written to all MLAs telling them that the regulations that enable the legislation to be passed at a single sitting have not yet been laid.

Mr Maskey said the issue was one of "timing and choreography".

But the Department of Health said the necessary statutory rule "will be available to elected representatives by the beginning of next week".

"Once the draft regulations are affirmed, a three month lead-in time will be required to facilitate implementation planning, including increased public awareness activities before the new system goes live," the department's statement said.

Sir Jeffrey said he had written to the secretary of state about plans to table an amendment to Westminster legislation on Wednesday February 22 that would "enable the completion of Dáithí’s Law by the springtime as originally planned".

"It is disgraceful that this issue has been used as blackmail for the return of devolution," the Lagan Valley MP said.

"The government know the parameters for the restoration of devolved government therefore they should take the necessary steps in Westminster to ensure Dáithí’s Law is put in place."

SDLP health spokesperson Colon McGrath said getting the legislation through the assembly "would not be straightforward" but that it was possible to do it in one afternoon.

"The real question every MLA has to ask themselves is this – how would you feel if your son or daughter was waiting on the organ transplant list for lifesaving treatment?" he said.

"Wouldn’t you move heaven and earth to give them the best possible chance? We aren’t asking for heaven and earth, just for MLAs from every party to show up, do their job, nominate a speaker and pass this lifesaving law."

West Belfast schoolboy Dáithí is currently recovering in hospital in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, having undergone an exploratory operation on Thursday.

His father Mairtin MacGabhann urged politicians to do all they could to get the law implemented.

"We've just got to get this done. Come on," he told the BBC.

"Dáithí deserves it – the organ donation and transplantation community deserve it.

"I've said it before, it's much more than Dáithí Law, it's the beacon of hope."

Former health minister Robin Swann said the opt-out organ donation law should not be part of Stormont's "political stand-off".

He said the delays to enacting the system were "frustrating and disappointing".

"It's heart-wrenching and a hard enough emotional point for them to be dealing with, without getting caught up in the politics of this," he said.