The Minister for Health, Leo Varadker, today became the first ever Irish cabinet minister to openly state that he is gay.
The Minister for Health, Leo Varadker, of Fine Gael, has confirmed to RTÉ that he is gay. In an interview with Miriam O'Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One, the former Minister for Transport – who now handles the hugely sensitive and difficult Health portfolio – said that he had decided to come out because he would be campaigning in support of a "yes" vote in the upcoming referendum on same sex marriage. The Minister was appearing on the Sunday Morning With Miriam programme.
"I'm a very private person," Minister Varadker said. "And I still am. I keep my private life to myself and that's going to continue. I always think that friends and family are off-bounds. I went into politics, they didn't. But I am a gay man.
"It's not a secret," he added, "but not something that everyone would necessarily know. It isn't something I've spoken publicly about before."
This is the first time ever in Ireland that a Government minister has revealed that he is gay. While other Ministers have been known to be gay, none has ever deliberately officially revealed the fact. Emmett Stagg, the current Labour Party chief whip, was a Minister for State when, in 1994, he was stopped and questioned by Gardaí in an area that was used by male prostitutes in Dublin's Phoenix Park. A young man was with him in his car at the time. To the Labour Party's credit, Stagg remained in office and he has subsequently proven to be one of the party's most able and intelligent politicians.
While the extent of knowledge of Minister Varadker's sexuality in media circles is unclear, the announcement came as no surprise to Hot Press. However, the timing is important: if the Minister had not himself made it public, the fact that he is gay might have been used against him and against the Government, by those opposed to a "Yes" vote in the upcoming same sex marriage referendum.
"There are political and a policy reasons too," the Minister said, elaborating on the timing of his revelations. "I am now the Minister for Health. I don't want anyone to think that I have a hidden agenda or that I am not being fully honest with them."
Leo Varadkar revealed that, looking back, he always knew that he was gay, but it was only in the last year or two that he had come to accept it. The Minister revealed that he had put his career and politics first, and he had only given time to his personal life in the last couple of years. He is not currently involved in a relationship. Minister Varadker was celebrating his 36th birthday.
Already speculation is mounting as to whether or not he can go on to become the first ever gay Taoiseach. For some time, Leo Varadker has been recognised as one of the most able and ambitious politicians in any of the mainstream political parties. He is widely seen as the next Fine Gael leader-in-waiting. It will be interesting to see if today's revelations will have any effect on the upward trajectory of his career, especially given the historic conservatism of the Fine Gael party.
One other prominent member of Fine Gael, Jerry Buttimer TD, has already revealed that he is gay.
Meanwhile, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network has said that it salutes the "courage" of Minister Varadkar.
"His courage will inspire many others who would like to be open about who they are," said GLEN Chairperson Kieran Rose. "Whether you are a Cabinet minister or a young gay person doing your Leaving Certificate, it takes courage to talk openly about who you are. Minister Varadkar talking openly about being gay will be a very important source of support for LGBT people and for their parents and families."
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