Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said he wants to be an "equal citizen in my own country" and intends speaking further about his sexuality as the referendum campaign on same-sex marriage intensifies.
Mr Varadkar yesterday publicly came out as a gay man and said the referendum, due to be held in May, was one of the reasons he felt the need to speak about his sexuality now.
Sources close to him suggested that the interview, although a personal rather than political matter, could be seen as the unofficial start to the referendum campaign and would provide a boost to Yes campaigners.
While polls have shown the Yes side with an overwhelming lead – one last week showing 80 per cent in favour – ministers have privately warned that the outcome will be closer and predict a tough campaign.
Fine Gael TDs and others in the party praised Mr Varadkar's interview with Miriam O'Callaghan on RTÉ Radio, saying it showed courage and would make little or no difference to his standing at parliamentary party and grassroots level.
“Leo will be judged on whether he can sort out the health service, not on his sexuality,” said one deputy.
“He did it on his own terms,” remarked another. “There are some conservatives in Fine Gael still, but the pluses outweigh the minuses.”
The Minister himself said Taoiseach Enda Kenny had been “sound” when informed about it.
The interview was also welcomed across the political spectrum and by organisations such as the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.
Mr Varadkar said he felt comfortable talking about his sexuality now, which wasn’t always the case. However, he also said there were “policy reasons” for the timing of his interview.
“I am now the Minister for Health and there are decisions coming up that are not entirely my own but I will be involved in them. We have legislation coming forward this year about surrogacy and also a decision has to be made on whether we lift or relax the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
“I want people to know that whenever decisions are made on any issue, I will make them according to what I believe is in the public interest and my own conscience. I won’t be allowing my own background or my own sexual orientation to dictate the decisions I make.”
He also said he did not want people to think he had a “hidden agenda” and cited the same sex marriage referendum.
“I don’t want to dwell too much on the referendum but it is coming up in May and I was thinking about the arguments I would make, that’s what politicians do, you rehearse your arguments, you write them down, you run them by a few people.
“All the arguments that I was going to make were kind of detached, I was going to say it is important for the LGBT community that gay couples should have their relationships recognised and that wouldn’t be entirely honest. What I wanted to say is that I would like the referendum to be passed because I would 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.
“I’m not going to be leading the campaign or anything, that’s for other people to do but any time I’m asked, I want to be able to answer the question honestly.”