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Leo is less ordinary - in politics and in life


Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar could not but still have a certain hollowed-out feeling at his core following his public disclosure last weekend that he was a gay man.

He has since been inundated with telephone calls, tweets and text messages (his favoured method of communication) of unfailing support and gratitude.

And it follows that his decision is landmark and has been, and will continue to be, of great assistance to many, many people he has never known and will never meet.

But messages of congratulations, and such talk in general, are just that; the sentiments of others, be they expressed in brief conversations or in dashed-off 'texts', which are well-meaning and relatively sincere but can also sound a little trite.

That is not to say he is not grateful; but when he returns to his apartment in Blanchardstown, where he lives alone, he is left to his own thoughts and feelings.

At such moments, there can be a tendency to submit to a form of deeper introspection.

He is not in a relationship, has no partner or boyfriend, so there is nobody special he can turn to, or rely on, to express an unformed view or uncertainty.

Ultimately, for so long as he remains alone, he will be left to find his own truth - a process which can be daunting, but finds a rhythm of its own, and can also be so intensely bittersweet. That's life. In recent times, there seems to be little doubt that such moments of introspection have caused, or have led to, a softening in the political persona of the Minister for Health.

When he first burst onto the public consciousness, it was in the form of a bright and ambitious young career politician.

In breathless profile, he was a medical doctor but never practised; a Trinity College graduate; transient city councillor; a young Fine Gaeler on the right wing, always destined for the top.

In the last three years he has reached close to the top, but for another step which everybody feels free to speculate he will take, sooner or later.

Within moments of his 'coming out' the talk was of Leo Varadkar being the country's first gay Taoiseach.

In the whirligig of politics, it is said it will come down to Leo, the (we now know) gay minister, exotic in his half-Indian breeding, tall, handsome, intelligent, communicative, honest, open and right now probably the most popular politician in the country; or Simon Coveney, the straight-backed son of a merchant prince, rounded, reared to wear his privilege lightly, to share it generously, married with a young family, also open, honest and articulate. The material comfort of both men is not in doubt.

But the question is asked, will Leo's gayness count against him when the time comes. In my view it will not; but nor will it, or should it, count for him either.

The answer to the question, whether a gay or straight Fine Gael leader will - perish the thought - end up in bed with Fianna Fail, shall come down to the hard barter of politics.

The Fine Gael electorate will look to party and personal advantage: under whom will Fine Gael fare better, Leo or Simon; which will appoint such-and-such to Cabinet or to the second tier or to chair an Oireachtas committee; and who will weigh a perceived advantage against their own disadvantage and do a deal with the other side. Some things will never change.

As to the question of a Grand Coalition with Fianna Fail, Varadkar and Coveney are not averse to such a partnership, nor are most of their generation on the other side, in Fianna Fail. The day will come. When the votes are counted the politics of necessity will dictate. It will not come down to loyalty, blind or otherwise, or disloyalty in all of its requirements, but to the will of the people in a moment of time.

For Leo, though, the issue is not immediately relevant. Last week, as he slowly came down from the soft cloud of warm embrace, there were still serious deficiencies in the health service - maternity care at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, for example.

With interesting timing, he also chose to re-float the Government's Universal Health Insurance plan - or wheeze, depending on your point of view.

There is enough on his plate. Those who know him say these days, almost obsessively, or compulsively, he examines over and over a red and green colour co-ordinated App on his phone.

The App is updated each night: trolley-watch details from every hospital across the country, which last week remained predominately red, particularly in the West. He has a year to make headway in Health, but at least he seems to have found the coalface. There was also a sense from his openness last weekend, that his introspection in recent years could eventually lead him to take another direction in life altogether.

At the age of 36, he is a little young to have what might be called a mid-life crisis, but when one achieves so much, so young, mid-life can come a little early: not so much a crisis then, more the evolution of Leo Varadkar.

He may never be leader of Fine Gael; may never be the first gay Taoiseach, may not actually want to be seen as such; in fact, he may not be a TD after the next election, if he fails to hold off Joan Burton in what is a mishmash of a constituency which nearly always throws up a surprise.

He can be expected to give it a determined effort, however. His immediate future is in politics. He is not about to abruptly abandon his first love.

But if there was a subtext to his 'coming out' last weekend, it was that the Health Minister has come to deal with far more than his sexuality, and to conclude that there is more, much, much more to life than the endless frustration of politics, the half-full promise of compromise.

In that regard, then, it will be both a fascination and a pleasure to bear some form of witness to his continued development, not just as a fine politician, but also, indeed primarily, as a most interesting and beautiful human being.

Sunday Independent