THE Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was one of the first to offer his support to health minister Leo Varadkar after he publicly announced he was gay.
Mr Noonan texted Mr Varadkar after his interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on Sunday morning, during which he revealed he is a gay man.
“I heard the interview and when it was over I sent him a text message. I said: ‘Well done Leo – great interview’. I wish him well but I don’t like talking about people’s personal lives. It’s his personal life. He is a good minister. I work with him every day of the week,” Minister Noonan told the Leader this week.
“I think it will help young guys in particular if they are confused and wondering whether they should come out or not,” he added.
Mr Varadkar, 36, has received widespread support from politicians across all parties for speaking candidly about his private life on the RTE Radio One programme. He is the first minister to make such an announcement publicly.
His party colleague, Patrick O’Donovan TD, who has known Mr Varadkar for over 20 years said the health minister “seems happy in himself and that’s the most important thing for him.
“I know him very well. We were in Young Fine Gael together. I count him as a friend. He is very capable, very competent and I just wish him well,” said the Limerick deputy.
As it was for many people across the country, Mr Varadkar’s announcement about his personal life was news to Deputy O’Donovan, who rang him on Sunday to offer his support. The Newcastle West man doesn’t feel that the news will affect his party colleague’s ability to be minister for health in any way – “positive or negative.The way I look at is, he has a job to do to try and clear up an awful lot of problems in the health service - that’s my engagement with him. I spoke to him Sunday evening saying, ‘Back to work on Monday’ and the problems that are in the health service are still going to be there.
“I think his political colleagues will view it that way too.”
In relation to Mr Varadkar’s prospects of becoming Taoiseach, Mr O’Donovan said his ambitions “would have to be tempered by the ambitions of the current office-holder.
“I would be saying Enda Kenny is doing a very good job – there is no vacancy. I think an awful lot of that is speculation. The reality is Enda Kenny is Taoiseach at the moment and that’s the way it is going to continue.
“When he decides to step down as leader of Fine Gael, at that stage we will have a selection process and you don’t know who the runners and riders are going to be at that stage. I was in Young Fine Gael with Leo Varadkar and I never expected that he would be Minister for Health and I would be in the Dail at this age. You never know where any of us would wind up.”
Ireland’s youngest female councillor, Lisa Marie Sheehy, heard Mr Varadkar’s news through social media. “Twitter and Facebook went into meltdown. My main thought was, OK, it’s courageous what he did but my idea of the ideal society is that this would not be blinked at. It’s a natural thing. It should not be headline news around the country that someone has come out,” said the Sinn Fein councillor.
“I don’t like these rumours. If someone is LGBT and they don’t feel like saying it - if they have told the people that need to know, their parents and friends, well then that’s fine for them. Someone doesn’t have to tell you their sexuality up front - it doesn’t matter,” said the Glenroe woman.
Mr Varadkar’s coming out however, she said, has started the conversation about the forthcoming marriage equality referendum. “It’s perfect timing – I’m not saying that he timed it but it is perfect for the referendum and it’s really important to get the conservation started. I have a motion in for our next council meeting about supporting the marriage equality referendum and I say marriage equality because it doesn’t have to come under the same sex banner – it’s just love and we have to take the stigmas out of it - it’s just equality at the end of the day.”