Dáithí’s Law: Parties urged to elect Speaker to pass donation bill

The Northern Ireland secretary has put fresh pressure on Stormont parties to elect an assembly Speaker in order to pass stalled opt-out organ donation laws.

BBC News NI has seen a letter from Chris Heaton-Harris in which he holds back the prospect of Westminster resolving the issue.

The law has been held up due to the Stormont stalemate.

It should have come into effect this spring.

It passed the assembly in February 2022 but secondary legislation is needed to specify which organs and tissues are covered under the opt-out system.

Without it the system cannot come into effect.

The government was urged to solve the issue by including it in a bill extending the period for executive formation.

Stormont has been without a power-sharing government for 12 months due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) boycott in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On Friday its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson met the parents of Dáithí Mac Gabhann, whose family have campaigned for organ donation laws to be changed.

Sir Jeffrey said the “quickest way” to progress the legislation was through Westminster and that Northern Ireland MPs would work together on it.

However it is understood that the scope of the latest Executive Formation bill may be too narrow for MPs to table an amendment relating to organ donation laws.

In a letter to Stormont’s party leaders issued on Thursday, Mr Heaton-Harris said if the parties recalled the assembly it could have “this legislation in place in a matter of days”.

“This would only require MLAs [assembly members] to work together to elect a speaker, not necessarily nominate a first and deputy first minister,” he added.

He said with a Speaker in place, MLAs could then approve the secondary legislation that is needed.

Mr Heaton-Harris said this could all happen in one sitting.

“This would be the quickest, most straight-forward path to progressing this important legislation that Dáithí and his family have campaigned so tirelessly for – than for me to bring forward primary legislation in the UK Parliament, which as you know would be a long and arduous process,” he added.

It is understood Mr Heaton-Harris has also communicated this to Dáithí’s parents.

Dáithí and his parents travelled to England earlier this week for a cardiac procedure at a hospital in Newcastle.

Sinn Féin has submitted a recall petition seeking to enable the election of an assembly Speaker that would allow Daithi’s Law to be enacted.

A petition requires signatures from 30 MLAs before it can be successful.

The party’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the law must get over the line.

“Let’s elect a speaker and let’s finalise this law,” she added.

“I think that little Dáithí deserves that, everybody that’s waiting for an organ transplant deserves that.”

Speaking on BBC NI’s The View, the DUP’s Paul Givan said his party would meet on Monday morning “and we’ll take a position as to the approach that we’ll take” about the election of a Speaker.

Earlier, his party colleague Gordon Lyons said there was no reason amendments could not be added to the Executive Formation Bill.

“This has been done in the past on issues such as abortion and on victim’s pensions,” he added.

“There is now a vehicle for which that could be done, and it should be done.”

Parties at Stormont have so far failed to elect a new assembly Speaker five times since the election last May.

Without a Speaker, no other business can take place.

The DUP has insisted it will not support the election of a speaker until changes are made to the NI Protocol, which it can support.


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