JEROME REILLY A GAY Fianna Fail councillor who has been the victim of a vicious hate campaign believes he was cynically "outed" for political gain.
The smear campaign against Cllr Malcolm Byrne involved leaks to his local newspaper "revealing" that his profile was included on a dating website used by gay men called "gaydar.ie".
Cllr Byrne has been touted as an odds-on favourite to be added to the Fianna Fail ticket in the crucial five-seater Wexford constituency, which has also been specifically targeted by Sinn Fein at national level.
It now appears the smear was designed for political gain, to damage the young councillor who is regarded by Fianna Fail HQ as a potential new TD.
Fine Gael has vehemently denied being involved in the smear campaign. Fine Gael councillor Michael D'Arcy condemned the leaking of the story, saying, "This is a step too far. He is entitled to his privacy like any other citizen."
A senior Government source yesterday told the Sunday Independent that the view in Fianna Fail party headquarters is that Sinn Fein-IRA at national level was behind the campaign to damage Cllr Byrne, but they were not in a position to prove this.
Cllr Byrne's Fianna Fail colleague in Dublin, Cllr Garry Keegan, is adamant that Sinn Fein was behind the leaking of the story.
"As one of only two Fianna Fail councillors to publicly stand up to Sinn Fein in recent weeks, I am struck by the fact that both myself and my Wexford colleague, Councillor Malcolm Byrne, have been the subject of smears by the Sinn Fein dirty tricks department in recent weeks.
"In my own case there is a whispering campaign that I am somehow being disloyal to the traditions of Fianna Fail in taking up the Rafferty case," Cllr Keegan said.
Though most of Cllr Byrne's family and friends were aware he was gay, some relatives and friends were not, and he confirmed to the Sunday Independent that he had to tell them personally before the issue was aired in his local newspaper.
"It was not the way I wanted to do it," he said.
Cllr Byrne said he had been approached by a local reporter who had been fed information and he had decided to confront the issue head on.
"Yes I am gay. I don't have a problem with that. I have not, nor have I ever, done anything illegal and I am not a hypocrite in any way.
"My views on gay rights issues are well known. I am not married with four children or anything like that, so there is no suggestion of hypocrisy," he added.
Cllr Byrne said close friends and family, and many of his constituents, are all aware of his orientation and have been for a long time.
"As far as I am concerned it's a personal matter. It just shouldn't be an issue, and most of the time it isn't. It certainly hasn't been an issue within the community in which I live, and which I love an awful lot."
The 31-year-old Councillor Byrne - who is the youngest member of Gorey Town Council, and was just 25 when first elected at the first count in 1999, and again topped the poll in 2004 - still hopes to be added onto the Fianna Fail ticket for the forthcoming general election.
"It is a five-seater, and three candidates have currently been selected. In Wexford there are four electoral districts and the three other candidates have been chosen from the New Ross, Wexford and Enniscorthy areas.
"There is no representative from the Gorey area and it is certainly my hope to be that candidate," he said.
"Part of the rationale is that I am involved in a wide range of community activities and that the north west area of Wexford, where I am based, is the fastest growing area in the whole of the south east and doesn't have a TD of any colour. So the opportunity is there," he added.
He said he was mystified as to how this issue suddenly emerged.
"Someone obviously wanted the newspapers to make a story out of it. My view is that it reflects more on them than it does on me - but obviously I am mindful of the need to protect my family.
"I was asked by a reporter whether I was gay, and if I had a profile contained in the www.gaydar.ie website. Now this is a gay dating website, very similar to dating websites, which are like the personal columns published in newspapers," he said.
"The only difference is that it is for gay men."
He said the editor of the local newspaper had implied that it was someone with a political agenda against him. Asked if it was from within his own party or from others, he would not speculate.
"As far as I am concerned, the story is gone. It reflects more on the people who think there is a story in this."