Robinson: I back both organ bills

Jo-Anne ''Dobson and Joe Brolly
Jo-Anne ''Dobson and Joe Brolly

Peter Robinson has endorsed Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson’s proposal for a ‘soft opt-out’ organ donation regime – but said that he also supports a rival proposal from one of his own MLAs.

The DUP leader has made clear that he “personally” supports the system which Ms Dobson is attempting to introduce through a private member’s bill.

That system would move from the current ‘opt-in’ system for organ donation to one where everyone’s consent for their organs to be used is “presumed”unless they or their family specifically opt out of it.

DUP MLA Alastair Ross has said that he opposes that model on ideological grounds as he does not believe the state should presume to own the organs of its citizens. Instead, he proposes a law which would make motorists decide on their driving licence application forms whether they want to donate their organs, forcing them to make a choice.

Last night Mr Robinson said: “As an organ donor, I am very supportive of any steps which can be taken to increase the number of donors in the Province.

“Both proposed bills would increase the level of organ donation and I am happy to support Jo-Anne and Alastair’s efforts for this great cause. Giving an organ to someone is a really special act. It is literally a life-saving gift in many cases. I hope many others will join me and register for organ donation.”

Mr Robinson’s comments – which are consistent with what he said a year ago but have added significance in the wake of Mr Ross beginning a public consultation on his bill – effectively disproves those who claimed that Mr Ross’s bill was a carefully-orchestrated DUP attempt to scupper Ms Dobson’s bill because she was an Ulster Unionist.

Rather, it seems that Mr Ross and others in the DUP who have libertarian or religious opposition to Ms Dobson’s bill have been given licence to press ahead and attempt to gather support, but without the party leadership’s backing.

Earlier this week the First Minister made his position clear in a written Assembly answer co-signed by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, though they suggested the issue being pursued by the Department of Health rather than through a private member’s bill.

A DUP spokesman said that he expected that the party’s MLAs will be given a free vote on the two bills when they come before the Assembly.

When asked whether its MLAs would be given a free vote or be whipped to back Ms Dobson’s bill, the UUP said that its Assembly group had voluntarily decided to unanimously support her bill.

Jo-Anne Dobson and campaigner Joe Brolly after the MLA announced her organ donation bill

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson welcomed the support for her position from the top of the Executive: “I firmly believe, and am supported in this by the First and Deputy First Ministers, that a soft opt-out system is the best solution to save local lives.

“However, exactly one year on since the health minister said he would conduct a public survey, and now over three months after the results were published, he has yet to make his intentions clear.”