Monday 18 February 2019

Daniel McConnell: Leo Varadkar announcement is watershed moment in Irish politics

Minister Leo Varadkar.
Minister Leo Varadkar.
Leo Varadkar taking part in Hell & Back
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD Dr. Stephanie O'Keefe National Director for Health & Wellbeing with & Adam Remond dressed as "Sean" a mascot to quit smoking at the launch of a new QUIT Presonal Support services to help thise quitters-providing a team of trained advisors, interactive digital tools,empathy & support and making them twice as likely to quit for good

Daniel McConnell

The decision for Health Minister to publicly announce he is gay, might surprise many but has been the talk of political circles for many months.

Mr Varadkar becomes the first Irish minister to be openly gay and his revelation is without question a real watershed moment in Irish politics.

In his most revealing interview to date, Mr Varadkar said: “I am a gay man, It is not a secret. It’s not something that defines me. It is part of my character.”

In his usual straight talking manner, Mr Varadkar said his decision to come out was driven by both personal and political reasons.

Mr Varadkar revealed his sexuality this morning saying he: “didn’t want anyone thinking I have a hidden agenda, I always tried to be honest with people.”

Powerfully, he said he wants to be an equal citizen in a country of which he is a minister.

He said: “I’d like to be an equal citizen in my country of which I am a minister because at the moment I am not.”

Asked why he took the decision to make the announcement on his 36th birthday, Mr Varadkar said he was doing it “in part personal reasons. I’m comfortable talking about it. It is not a big deal for me.”

He said he was revealing it also because of political considerations.

He said because of important decisions coming up on surrogacy and on whether “we lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.”

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Leo Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

“I want people to know,” he added.

But he also spoke of the impact his sexuality and his decision to reveal it publicly has had on his family, friends but in particularly his parents.

He said his mother was concerned that he might get beaten up or lose his seat, but she ultimately said she wanted him to be happy.

He said his dad who comes from a conservative background in India, said it was a “little bit difficult” but it has been fine since.

“Some people get rejected by their families, but I have been very lucky,” he said.

He said he realised he was gay one or two years ago.

He said he told Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the past couple of days that he was coming out. “He asked me have I ever been to the Panti Bar, and I said no. So he joked, you see Varadkar I am ahead of you,” Mr Varadkar said of the conversation with Mr Kenny.

But, Varadkar’s revelation has real significance in the context of the upcoming marriage equality referendum and his leadership ambitions.

His sexuality has been on the radar within Fine Gael for a long time and he undoubtedly has taken the decision to come out in order to clear his way to becoming leader.

While he appeared comfortable this morning on radio, Mr Varadkar has always been uncomfortable speaking about his personal life.

In a historical context, a decision by a minister, especially a Fine Gael minister, to declare he is gay would have been unheard of even ten years ago.

But aside from his sexuality, Mr Varadkar also hinted that his time in politics is set to be brief.

He said he fears losing his seat as Dublin West is a tough constituency for Fine Gael.

“I have my exit strategy, either go back to college or study abroad, or doing something medical and political abroad,” he said.

“I don’t see myself in politics at 51, I definitely want to do something else,” he said.

“Whatever I do next it will be different, not politics,” he said.

Asked about his straight talking manner, which often gets him into trouble, Mr Varadkar said he does not regret his style.

“Politicians should trust people with the truth. Very often we don’t do that. We have an education and cynical electorate. I decided early on to be honest and trust people with the truth. I am also a crap liar,” he said.

So, will people look at Leo Varadkar any differently now, given his announcement?

Only time will tell.

But, to put his announcement in context, homosexuality was only de-criminalised in 1993.

So real progress has been made and that has to be welcomed.

Online Editors

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