Friday 22 November 2019

Being gay will not prove a barrier to being leader

Taoiseach Enda Kenny poses with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and other members of Fine Gael at the party's think-in at Fota Island Hotel. Photo: Tony Gavin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny poses with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and other members of Fine Gael at the party's think-in at Fota Island Hotel. Photo: Tony Gavin

Daniel McConnell

The one big question that was asked throughout yesterday in the wake of Leo Varadkar's coming out is how this would affect his leadership ambitions?

Those ambitions for the top job, not just in Fine Gael but in Government, are real and Varadkar has made no secret of his impatience for promotion.

Indeed, much of the surprise expressed yesterday was that he has achieved so much by the relatively young age of 36.

Well, he emerged from the announcement unscathed, and the mood amongst many of his party colleagues, urban and rural, is that being gay is no barrier to him becoming leader.

Other issues like competence or ability to convince his colleagues to trust him with the leadership at some point in the future may scupper his dreams, but his sexuality will not.

The reaction, which has largely been muted and free of recrimination, is a real sign of progress of how far we as a country have come.

Mr Varadkar is the first Irish minister to be openly gay and his revelation is without question a real watershed moment in Irish politics. In a deeply personal interview, 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.

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 for "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."

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.

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 10 years ago.

Another interesting aspect of his interview was that he does not expect to still be in politics in 15 years time, a further hint of his impatience.

"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," he added.

With this major hurdle overcome, and his reputation still secure, Leo Varadkar's leadership bid remains very much on course.

Irish Independent

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