Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has come out publicly this morning, saying he is a "gay man".
“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.
“It’s not something that defines me,”he said. “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”.
Across the course of a wide-ranging interview, in which the Dublin West TD discussed his Indian heritage and an ambition to leave politics after another 15 years, Mr Varadkar said he wanted to make clear there were no hidden agendas on his behalf going into the same-sex marriage referendum set for May this year.
“There’s a referendum on marriage equality coming up too, and I just want to be honest with people. I was thinking about the arguments that I might make, and all the arguments that I was going to make were kind of detached” he said, speaking on his 36th birthday.
“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 added.
Despite the ongoing overcrowding crisis in hospital emergency departments throughout the country, the Minister sought to make clear that he didn’t time the announcement to deflect publicity away from political issues affecting the Government, and that he wanted to clarify his personal position ahead of some upcoming decisions to be taken by the Government.
“There are political and policy reasons too. I am now the Minister for Health, there are decisions coming up that are not entirely my own but I will be involved in them,” said Mr Varadkar, referring to surrogacy legislation and the debate over blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
“What I want people to know is that whatever decisions are made on any issue, I’ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and of my own conscience, I won’t be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions that I make.”
Mr Varadkar said he also decided to come out for “personal reasons” because he was comfortable to talk about his sexuality now but “wasn’t always”. “It’s not a big deal for me anymore, I hope it’s not a big deal for anyone else, it shouldn’t be,” he said.
Mr Varadkar is the first openly gay minister in the history of the State, and is the second Fine Gael TD of the current Government to come out publicly after Jerry Buttimer made public his sexuality in 2012. He is joined on the coalition benches by Labour TDs John Lyons and Dominic Hannigan, the first openly gay deputies in the chamber.
The Minister also recounted the phone call in which he informed Taoiseach and party leader Enda Kenny of his decision to go public.
“He said it was my private life, and my private issue, and said it was none of his concern, that he wouldn’t be commenting on it, that nothing would be different and nothing would change,” said Mr Varadkar.
“He asked me if I’d ever been to the Panti Bar... and I said actually no I haven’t, and he said: ‘There you go Varadkar, I’m ahead of you already’.”
Mr Varadkar said he was a “very private person. “ I keep my private life to myself, I always think that friends and family are off bounds,” he said.
“I have always put the career and the job and politics and all of that first”, he told Miriam O’Callaghan.
“I didn’t give much time to my personal life at least until the last couple of years,” he said. “All my friends are getting married and having kids”, he said.
“It’s only now in the last two years I have really given time to my personal life,”he said.”I always thought I’d be alone,” he said.
A qualified GP, Trinity-graduate Varadkar first entered local politics in 2003, and rose to national prominence in 2011 when he appointed Minister for Transport. He succeeded James Reilly as Minister for Health following a cabinet reshuffle last year, and revealed that it had been a career ambition of his since the age of seven.
While confirming that the decision to go public about his sexuality had lifted a weight off his shoulders, Mr Varadkar admitted that some people in the Fine Gael party may judge him, but that it was an important precedent to set for future politicians.
“I suppose I’d like to get to the place where the next generation of politicians don’t have to do an interview like this, that it’s not a big deal and that blond hair, black hair, it’s not necessarily something you have to make a big deal of,” he said.
“I just hope that next week people will treat me the same, that’s the only thing that I’d ask really,” he concluded.