'I didn't know he was coming out in public' - Leo's dad
Health Minister praises father's support after he revealed he was gay ahead of equality referendum
Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30
Health Minister Leo Varadkar's father did not know his son was going to come out to the entire nation during a radio interview in the build up to the Marriage Equality Referendum.
Dr Ashok Varadkar, who was visiting his native India at the time of the Health Minister's landmark radio interview, said he was "shocked" by his son's very public revelation.
In his first public interview, Dr Varadkar also revealed he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and take over his general practice rather than become a politician.
The doctor, who previously supported Fianna Fail, said his political views were "more liberal than those of Fine Gael", but insisted he still hoped the current Government was returned after the General Election.
Dr Varadkar, who is retired, supported the Marriage Equality Referendum and posed for publicity pictures with other fathers of gay men during the campaign.
However, he never spoke publicly about his son's decision to tell the country he was gay while speaking to Miriam O'Callaghan on RTE Radio One before the historic vote.
But in a recent interview with the Journal of Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Varadkar broke his silence to praise the Health Minister's bravery in coming out.
"When Leo came out in public it was a shock to me like anybody else. When he did the radio interview I was actually in India. Whether his sisters knew or not I'm not sure - they may have (had) some inkling but I didn't," he said.
"But I know it's not uncommon to be gay so I've supported him fully. As long as he's happy - that's the main thing as far as we are concerned," Dr Varadkar added.
Mr Varadkar said he told his father he was gay three months before he went public in January last year and presumed his mother would tell him about the radio interview.
"I told him around October or November. He was very supportive, more so than I expected. He's an Indian man in his 70s. Other gay sons haven't been as lucky," Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent.
Born in Mumbai, Dr Varadkar moved to England in the 1960s where he met his wife Miriam, who is from Dungarvan in Waterford.
The couple spent time living in India during the 1970s but relocated to Ireland where the doctor set up a practice in Blanchardstown, Dublin.
The couple have three children: Sophia, a neurologist in Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; Sonia, a midwife in the Coombe Hospital in Dublin; and Leo, who is also a qualified GP.
Dr Varadkar said his own interest in politics may have influenced his son from a early age and pushed him towards becoming an elected representative. However, he considers himself a socialist and was a Labour Party supporter when living in England.
"My politics would be slightly more liberal than those of Fine Gael. But if you were to ask what government I would like to see in power after the next election, I would have to say the present Government," he said. "Previously, I've been a Fianna Fail supporter."
The doctor said the Health Minister has been landed with the toughest job in Cabinet, but "overall is doing a good job" and has notable achievement such as the introduction of free GP care for under-sixes and over-70s.
He believes the hospital trolley crisis, which currently has the minister in the eye of a political storm, has been an issue in the health service for a "long time" and will "take some time to sort out".
"I think Leo would probably share my view that healthcare should be free for everyone and the Government has promised to extend free GP care further if re-elected," he added.
Dr Varadkar said that his son's plan to extend free GP care is likely to face further resistance from the medical profession but insisted Irish doctors should be more appreciative of their work conditions.
"I think that, while there are obviously problems, life is not bad for Irish doctors however they might complain about things," he said.
He added he was not sure if his son wanted to be Taoiseach but said he has always been "ambitious and determined to succeed in everything".
He would also like his son to be foreign affairs minister some time in the future.