A rush to ban gay conversion therapy in Northern Ireland could lead to ineffective laws that enable the practice to continue, a minister has warned.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she would like to bring forward draft legislation immediately, but told MLAs she had received expert advice that more time was needed to ensure the law was watertight.
She said administrations elsewhere in the UK and Ireland had encountered problems implementing prohibitions.
Ms Hargey said she was working with an expert panel to put together Stormont’s sexual orientation strategy.
The minister said it was important to establish the scale of gay conversion treatment in Northern Ireland and the different names the practice is given.
“I don’t want to leave any loophole in the legislation that this practice may continue and therefore the legislation would be meaningless,” she told MLAs.
The minister said she was starting the process of drafting legislation at the same time the expert panel carried out its examination of the issue.
She said that would enable her to move quickly to table the proposed law change when the panel reported.
Ms Hargey said she was confident she would be able to table the legislation before the end of the Assembly mandate next spring.
The issue had been raised during Assembly question time by SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who expressed concern that legislation could be delayed.
“This is a harsh and cruel practice and it does seriously impact the mental health of members of our community,” he said.
“I welcome the announcement of strategies and impending legislation, but sometimes the executive is good at announcing strategies and legislation but not just so good on delivering them.
“Could I take this opportunity to encourage the minister to move as quickly as possible to deliver this whilst at the same time undertaking all of the loopholes that she has mentioned.
“We are the last place in these islands to deliver this so there should be plenty of experience out there on what to do and get it right.”
Ms Hargey added: “People have been completely affected by this, that has completely changed their life, their family dynamics as well, and obviously it is a cruel treatment that has to be banned and ended as soon as possible.
“But I have to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes as other jurisdictions.”