Analysis: Leo Varadkar interview a significant moment in public life

Prominence in public coming out by leading Minister of traditionally conservative party

‘Leo Varadkar’s brave interview will be seen as a significant moment in Irish society.’Pictured is the Minister for Health  with Miriam O’Callaghan in RTE Radio studios. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

‘Leo Varadkar’s brave interview will be seen as a significant moment in Irish society.’Pictured is the Minister for Health with Miriam O’Callaghan in RTE Radio studios. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Leo Varadkar’s brave interview will be seen as a significant moment in Irish society, a future clip on ‘Reeling in the Years’ which will provide a signpost to our maturing as a country.

“I am a gay man, it’s not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know but isn’t something I’ve spoken publicly about before,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning.

It is no big deal, he said, and he is probably right in his assumption that the vast majority of people listening to the radio this morning will wish him the best and move on with their own lives.

But it is a big deal. Many will take encouragement from his coming out publicly as a gay man. He is one of the highest profile and most able politicians of his generation, widely seen as a possible future leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach.

He is one of the most visible people in the country. His face is on television, on websites and in newspapers every day.

Listen: Leo Varadkar on Sunday with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1

His public coming out will be a great help to others, not just today, but as long as he is in the spotlight. Young men, women or teenagers coming to terms with their own sexuality will see someone in high public office who led by example and said it was no big deal.

They will also see that his sexuality was no impediment in other areas of his life. Today is also Mr Varadkar’s 36th birthday yet he has already climbed to one of the highest offices in the State.

There is something else significant to Mr Varadkar’s announcement. It is a sad reality that those campaigning for gay rights are often pigeon holed with the tag of “liberal”, as in association with Labour or parties or movements of the left.

Leo Varadkar is very definitely a politician of the right in most of his positions, yet he is now the most prominent gay figure in Irish public life, a leading light of one of the country’s two big, traditionally conservative parties.

A senior minister coming out probably wouldn’t have happened even ten years ago. It is indeed a big deal, but there are many other issues to be dealt with in the coming months and years.

As Mr Varadkar, the current Minister for Health, noted, he cannot donate blood. The same-sex marriage referendum will take place in May, and the campaign will be nasty and hard fought, with the possibility of extremes on both sides turning off the middle ground.

For Mr Varadkar himself, there is also the question of his own future leadership ambitions. Fine Gael rules give a huge say to the party’s grassroots in leadership contests and the ruptures over abortion show that it still has a substantial number of conservative rank and file members.

But that is for another day.

Today, a significant moment in one man’s private life, is also a seminal moment in Irish public life.

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