Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland’s health minister, has decided to keep a lifetime blood safeguard which helps to protect against the risk of HIV contamination.
His decision was met with a furious reaction by his political opponents and a homosexual lobby group.
The safeguard prevents blood being donated by men who have ever had sex with other men. It was weakened in the rest of the UK last month.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) have, as a group, a higher risk of sexually acquired blood-borne viruses.
The decision to weaken the safeguard in the rest of the UK was based on a review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).
Mr Poots said SaBTO had “confirmed that the risk of HIV infection would, although by a small margin, increase as a result of a relaxation in the present lifetime deferral”.
He also said: “Public safety must be my primary concern, and I want the Northern Ireland public to have maximum confidence in our blood supply.”
Mr Poots, a DUP member of the Northern Irish Assembly, commented: “This is a complex area. Blood-borne infections, well-recognised or as yet undiscovered, have the potential to destroy healthy lives.”
He continued: “Britain is set to become the first place in Europe to remove the lifetime ban specifically for men who have sex with other men.
“Italy and Spain have time-limited deferrals for anyone engaging in high risk sexual behaviour while all other EU countries continue to operate a lifetime ban. The United States and Canada also operate life bans.”
Responding to the move, the Ulster Unionist health spokesman John McCallister described keeping the lifetime safeguard as “outdated and irrational prejudice”.
And Kieran McCarthy, health spokesman for the Alliance Party, said he was “extremely annoyed” at the decision.
The Rainbow Project, which campaigns on behalf of homosexual and bisexual men in Northern Ireland, said Mr Poots’ motivation appeared to be “homophobia”.
From 7 November men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than 12 months ago will be allowed to donate blood in England, Scotland and Wales.