Assembly recalled to debate Dáithí's Law however DUP accuses government of 'blackmail' over issue

Assembly recalled to debate Dáithí's Law however DUP accuses government of 'blackmail' over issue

FOLLOWING a successful recall petition initiated by First Minister Designate Michelle O'Neill, the Northern Ireland Assembly will sit next week to debate Dáithí's Law.

Officially the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, the legislation is named after six-year-old Belfast boy Dáithí Mac Gabhann, who is awaiting a heart transplant.

Introduced last year by then Health Minister Robin Swann of the UUP, it would make organ donation in Northern Ireland an opt-out process, however it cannot be passed until government is up and running again.

In a letter to Assembly members on Friday, outgoing Speaker Alex Maskey said the recall would be to debate the motion but also to elect a Speaker and Deputy Speakers, without which the Assembly cannot proceed with the Bill.

Speaking ahead of the petition, Sinn Féin's Chief Whip Pat Sheehan said parties need to work together 'to pass this important, life-saving legislation'.

"We owe it to little Dáithí and all those people desperately waiting on a transplant to get this over the line quickly," added the MLA for West Belfast.

"I would urge all parties to now elect a Speaker and implement Dáithí's Law."

'No return to devolution'

However, speaking on Friday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said the government was using the law as 'blackmail' to force the Assembly to return.

He said that he would instead seek to have the law passed in the Commons and that his party would not return to power-sharing until their concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol were addressed.

"There will be no return to devolved government until the Protocol is dealt with decisively and we have arrangements that unionists, as well as nationalists, can support," said the Lagan Valley MP.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann and his dad Mairtin pictured in January 2022 at a Celtic game in Glasgow, where fans erected a banner in support of their campaign (Image: Rob Casey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

"Parliament is sovereign and has responsibility for Northern Ireland in the absence of devolution.

"I have written to the Secretary of State and indicated I will table an amendment in Westminster on February 22 to 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 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."

'Politics of protest and division'

SDLP Health Spokesperson Colin McGrath said the DUP must 'do the right thing for people in the North' and support the nomination of an Assembly Speaker.

"The decision taken by the DUP to collapse the Executive and Assembly and hold people in the North to ransom has never been justified," said the South Down MLA.

"Since the collapse of the institutions the cost of living emergency has deepened, the crisis in our health service has got much worse and countless important initiatives have fallen by the wayside.

"In that time period we have seen serious harm caused to the faith in politics here.

"Stormont is far from perfect, but it could have made a significant difference with strategic interventions to help people during the current crises we face."

He added: "We have been clear that we support a positive solution to the current impasse, but the DUP needs to think seriously about how far it is willing to take the politics of protest and division, and at what cost."

On Friday, Dáithí and his parents returned from England, where the youngster had undergone a heart procedure while he continues to await a transplant.