Daithi's Law: 'Three-month wait needed to activate donor law even once it is on the books'

The Department of Health has said that, even if Daithi's Law was brought into being by the Assembly tomorrow, it would still take months to get it up-and-running.
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Northern Ireland's 90 MLAs have been summoned to, firstly, elect a speaker and deputies, then secondly to pass a piece of legislation to activate Daithi's Law.

The BBC reported last week that NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has assured MLAs that doing so would mean the law can be in place within days.

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But because the DUP has made clear it will not elect a speaker as part of its anti-Protocol protest, the whole enterprise is doomed to fail.

USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Performs Surgery by NavyMedicine (marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0)USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Performs Surgery by NavyMedicine (marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0)
USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Performs Surgery by NavyMedicine (marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0)

One of the reasons is that once a speaker is in place, the Assembly can keep on meeting even if they quit, so it’s not possible to have a “one-off only” sitting.

Now the Department of Health has said that that, even once such a law is on the statute books, nothing practical will change for three months.


Daithi's Law is so named because of Daithi Macgabhann, a six-year-old Belfast boy who has been awaiting a heart transplant for years.

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The law would mean that instead of people opting-in to be organ donors, which is what happens at the moment, they would be automatically presumed to be donors unless the explicitly opt-out.

This would increase the pool of organs available for transplant in general (but would not of course directly guarantee Daithi immediate access to the heart he needs).

Speaking to the BBC this morning, Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan said: "What are we supposed to do? Sit back and do nothing? Or fulfil our commitments to the family and to Daithi?

"Because there's only one certainty in all of this: and that is if Daithi doesn't get a heart transplant, he's going to die. And that's what we're dealing with in this situation. A life or death matter."

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He added that "we could have this done and dusted by tomorrow, or Wednesday at the very latest".

Meanwhile People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: "Daithi Mac Gabhann and his family have moved mountains and made huge sacrifices to promote organ donation.

"All the DUP is being asked is to nominate a speaker. Tomorrow should be opportunity to implement life-saving legislation.

"If the DUP continues its Protocol protest then they will condemn themselves in the eyes of all decent people."


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On his show today, Stephen Nolan said the Northern Ireland Office has told him that for Daithi's Law to properly take effect, the Department of Health needs to do two things first.

One is present the Assembly with a "commencement order", activating the legislation which the Assembly passed last year that forms the bedrock of Daithi's Law.

The other is a set of draft regulations setting out in black-and-white the details of how the new law will operate.

For some reason, the Northern Ireland Office said that this basic information was being given to Mr Nolan "on background".

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This is an increasingly prevalent practice by government PR people, meaning journalists can report a piece of information, but mustn't quote the government directly – or even say where the information came from.

Mr Nolan said he saw no reason for this, and so was ignoring this instruction.

In turn he went to the Department of Health (as did the News Letter).

The department responded that, once the law is in place, “a three month lead-in time will be required to facilitate implementation planning, including increased public awareness activities before the new system goes live”.