16/04/2012 06:48 BST | Updated 16/04/2012 06:48 BST

Ban On Gay Blood Donors

A controversial ban on gay men being blood donors is bringing shame on Northern Ireland, student leaders are set to claim.

The ban is to be raised by student union officials at the NUS-USI annual conference which begins in Co Fermanagh today.

Health Minister Edwin Poots came under fire for maintaining the ban after the announcement it was to be lifted in Britain, but his officials said he has yet to make a final decision.

The union is also set to call on Stormont ministers to reassure students that they will not suffer from the planned scrapping of the department responsible for further education.

President of NUS-USI Adrianne Peltz said the organisation wanted to see equality across society.

"That's why at this year's conference will also be raising the issue of putting more pressure on the Health Minister to remove the despicable ban on gay men from donating blood, which has been lifted in other parts of the UK," said the union leader.

"For a ban to exist on gay men giving blood is an absolute disgrace as it flies in the face of equality and fairness. Think of the appalling message that this ban sends out. The fact that this blood donation ban is being lifted elsewhere but still exists here brings shame on Northern Ireland.

"For government to fail to lift the ban would be scandalous. As well as this being a key equality issue, we also need more blood donors here and this is literally a matter of life and death for a significant number of people in Northern Ireland."

A department of health spokesperson said: "The Minister has not yet made a final decision on this matter. He has asked for further information regarding the level of risks.

"Before making a final decision the Minister will consider all the relevant evidence and will take into account the issue of wider public confidence."

NUS-USI Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Officer Chris Geddis said the ban must be overturned and added: "Government must reflect on what having this ban says to the rest of the world about Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland simply must be a society that has equality and respect for everyone, and this ban must be removed as a matter of urgency."

The conference is taking place at the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen on Monday and Tuesday and will mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the NUS-USI.

In 1972 it was agreed that the National Unionist of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland would campaign together across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

But on the proposed scrapping of the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), the union said: "It is incumbent upon the First and Deputy First Ministers to reassure students that they will not be adversely affected by the scrapping of DEL."

The conference is to hear from DEL Minister Stephen Farry.