Widespread support for Varadkar as he 'comes out' as our first gay minister

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar

By Luke Byrne

THERE has been a groundswell of support for Health Minister Leo Varadkar's decision to speak publicly about being gay.

Mr Varadkar's fellow TDs lent their voices to the praises Mr Vardkar has been receiving from the gay community and the announcement won't harm his ambitions according to Fine Gael's top election guru.

The Dublin West TD used the opportunity of his 36th birthday yesterday to speak for the first time about his sexual orientation, in a radio interview with RTE's Miriam O'Callaghan.

"I am a gay man, it's not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know. [It] isn't something I've spoken publicly about before," he said.

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network chairman Kieran Rose saluted Mr Varadkar's courage which he said "will inspire many others who would like to be open about who they are".

Mr Varadkar's friend, former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton said that everyone has friends or family members who are gay.

"Of course I knew he was gay, but I haven't been speaking to him in a while. But I am delighted for him," she said.

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said Mr Varadkar's interview was very powerful and that he was proud of the health minister.

"Glad I'm not the only gay in the village," he added.

Meanwhile, Labour's John Lyons, also expressed his support saying: "Still hoping for a day being 'gay' is a non issue".

Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery has previously tipped the Health Minister as "ahead in the race" to take over from Enda Kenny to lead Fine Gael.

"I don't think Leo's announcement will affect that in any way," he told the Herald.

Mr Flannery left Fine Gael last year over his former role at controversial disabilities organisation Rehab but he is reported to be in talks to return to the party fold ahead of the next election.

He said last night that Mr Varadkar was an intelligent and talented politician and that he was one of six potential leaders of Fine Gael "when the time comes".

Mr Varadkar said that his sexuality wasn't something that defined him but was part of his character.

"I'm not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It's just part of who I am, it doesn't define me, it is part of my character I suppose," he said.

It was only in the last two years that he was able to admit to himself that he was gay, but now he doesn't see it as a big deal.

"There are people a lot braver than me, but I wanted to do it. I suppose I felt as a public figure I should say it.

"I want the next generation to feel that they don't have to do an interview like this," he said.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to be honest with the public ahead of a number of high-profile political decisions, such as the referendum on gay marriage later this year.

"What I really want to say is that I'd like the referendum to pass because I'd like to be an equal citizen in my own country, the country in which I happen to be a member of Government, and at the moment I'm not," he said.

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Varadkar said that he is currently single but that he is a private person and that any future relationships that he might have will be kept private.

"What I want people to know, I've already tried to be honest with people. I've always been a straight talker, I trust people to the extent that I can be honest with them and I want people to know that any decisions that I make, on any issue, I make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and my own conscience," Mr Varadkar said.

The minister said that may of his friends, including Lucinda Creighton, were already aware of his sexuality and that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been "sound" about it.

He also said that when he told Mr Kenny about his intentions to speak out on radio, the Taoiseach joked with him that he had beaten him to Panti Bar, the gay bar run by Rory O'Neill.

"He said: 'There you go Varadkar I'm ahead of you already'," he said.