MPs back Daithi’s Law on organ donation

MPs have backed a new organ donation law for Northern Ireland, known as “Daithi’s Law”.

MPs supported the change to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill as it passed through its Commons stages.

The Bill received an unopposed second reading and will now head to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

Six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann from Belfast, who is waiting for a new heart, high-fived his dad when MPs backed the change.

Daithi’s family travelled to Westminster to watch the regulations introduced by the Government clear their Commons stages.

The Government has moved to progress the stalled legislation on the opt-out donation system because the political impasse at Stormont means local Assembly members have been unable to convene to pass the regulations.

NI Executive Formation Bill
Daithi MacGabhann, six, and his father Mairtin, centre, outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Speaking at Westminster before the Bill passed, Daithi’s father Mairtin MacGabhann said: “It’s an emotional day and a very proud day.

“The victory is finally sinking in. I don’t think it will fully sink in for a few years maybe.

“We have met with the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) this morning. There was celebration in the air.

Mairtin MacGabhann
Mairtin MacGabhann said it was ‘a very proud day’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“We are just delighted, beyond proud of Daithi, beyond proud of ourselves and looking forward to Daithi’s Law being implemented.

“Over the past few weeks we have been let down again and again. We didn’t think we would be here today, but we are.”

Mr MacGabhann said he expected the Bill to get Royal Assent on March 6 with Daithi’s Law in place for early summer.

Last week, a bid to restore the Assembly to pass the law failed when the DUP again exercised its veto to prevent the election of a speaker, meaning no further business could be conducted.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Heaton-Harris said he was taking the “exceptional step” of progressing the legislation at Westminster following cross-party support for the plight of Daithi.

Daithi MacGabhann
Daithi MacGabhann, who is waiting for a heart transplant (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Daithi smiled and waved to MPs as the Commons debate got under way on Wednesday.

Mr Heaton-Harris praised the family for their “valiant efforts”, telling MPs: “They should not need to be here today to see this change being put in place. The Assembly could and should have convened to take this across the finish line.

“I recognise that this issue is exceptional both in terms of the sheer importance it holds and also the cross-party support it commands both in Northern Ireland and this House, and on that basis the Government has tabled … important amendments to this Bill to facilitate those changes to be taken forward in the Assembly in the continued absence of a speaker.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said the changes will become operational by the spring.

He added: “When I was talking with Daithi earlier today I asked him whether he fancied his chances of getting elected here and trying to put us all straight, because a bit of common sense in some of our dealings would probably go a long way, and I think he and his family have displayed that in huge quantity.

Chris Heaton-Harris visit to the US
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I know he also met Mr Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) and is now the proud owner of a Speaker teddy bear.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said the six-year-old was “going to make some history today”.

He said: “Obviously I want to see the assembly in place, and the assembly should have done this … I do recognise that this issue is so important that it warrants an exceptional intervention from the Government.”

Shadow Northern Ireland minister Tonia Antoniazzi said: “I want to say thank you to Daithi, he’s an inspirational little boy, and I’m not sure he knows yet quite how much of a difference he and his family have made across Northern Ireland, because frankly he has made history.”

Conservative MP Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said he supported the change, but added: “There is follow-up work that needs to be done on a public information campaign in order to ensure maximum understanding of it and take-up of the opportunities that it provides.”

Sinn Fein’ Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill tweeted that it was a “huge day” for people waiting for a transplant.

The opt-out system, which already operates in the rest of the UK, will mean adults in Northern Ireland would be presumed to be donors, unless they took a decision to opt out. It was being implemented to increase donation rates in the region.

The Government Bill will also delay the requirement for the formation of an executive at Stormont until January 18 next year and delay an Assembly election to April 11 at the latest.

The Government said the additional time would allow the Stormont parties “to focus attention on restoring devolved institutions” as well as providing space for continued UK/EU dialogue over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP collapsed the devolved executive a year ago in protest at the post-Brexit protocol and the party has made it clear it will not lift its block on powersharing until radical changes are made to the contentious Irish Sea trading arrangements.