Tuesday 27 September 2016

Leo prescribes a 'Yes' vote this May in order to keep the doctor away

Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar was encircled by a posse of medics of all sorts - doctors, nurses, pharmacists, trade union officials and the like. But for a pleasant change he wasn't getting it in the neck from one or the other concerned party over savage cuts (of the budgetary rather than physical kind, obviously).

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Instead the Health Minister and those who minister to the unwell were all singing harmoniously from the same prescription-sheet.

They were gathered under the well-appointed roof of the College of Physicians on Kildare Street to back the 'Yes for Health' campaign, declaring that marriage equality is a health issue as well as a human rights issue.

And so Leo, equality minister Aodhan O'Riordain and Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) happily posed for the cameras while brandishing a big polystyrene 'Yes' sign.

Despite the fact that the referendum is less than three weeks away, and a string of opinion polls have indicated that there is strong support among voters for marriage equality, there is still huge uncertainty in the various campaigns as to the outcome.

For unlike during general and local elections when those surveyed are more likely to nail their political colours to the mast, when it comes to making a change to the societal status quo, people tend to be cagier about their voting intentions. There will be firm public proponents of a 'Yes' vote who will quietly vote 'Níl' on the day - and vice versa.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar was joined by INMO general secretary Liam Doran and Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to advocate a ‘Yes’ vote
Health Minister Leo Varadkar was joined by INMO general secretary Liam Doran and Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to advocate a ‘Yes’ vote

But Leo himself was completely upfront about his support for a 'Yes' vote, wearing his medical chapeau as well as his political one. "The whole area of health, and mental health in particular, that if people feel more comfortable talking about their sexual orientation, it's much easier for them to access health services if they do have problems. We feel as a group if there's a 'No' vote, it would set a lot of people backwards in terms of their own personal journeys," he explained.

He reckoned that a 'No' vote on May 22 "for the country would be a big step backwards, and it would say to a lot of people that they're equal in some things, but not equal in all things and not equal before the law. And that would be really unfortunate."

But like a good doctor, Leo was keen to keep the temperature of the debate from rising into feverish acrimony, and he tiptoed around the charge by former justice minister Alan Shatter that some opponents of the referendum are using children as "weapons" in the campaign.

"I don't want to use any inflammatory language, I think this campaign has been fairly respectful to date and I hope it will stay that way, but it does need to be said that this referendum is about marriage, it's about equal access to marriage for same-sex couples," he said diplomatically.

So despite being a prominent member of the government campaign for a 'Yes' vote, had he himself not found himself at the sharp end of any disrespectful correspondence from those who beg to differ?

"I get a bit of hate mail," he admitted, "but it's usually about Irish Water or something like that. I haven't got much about the referendum yet."

Indeed, and not all the doctors in the land - spin or medical - have found a cure for that national ailment.

However, he added that a few kindly folk have been interceding with higher powers on behalf of his health in the afterlife.

"I've had a few people sending me letters offering prayers for me and to save my soul and things like that."

A mud-free campaign? Now that would be a miracle.

Irish Independent

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