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Prominent Irish politician becomes first openly gay minister

One of Ireland`s most prominent politicians announced he is gay on Sunday, becoming the first openly homosexual cabinet minister in Irish history four months before a referendum on same-sex marriage in the traditionally Catholic country.



Ireland: One of Ireland`s most prominent politicians announced he is gay on Sunday, becoming the first openly homosexual cabinet minister in Irish history four months before a referendum on same-sex marriage in the traditionally Catholic country. 

Seen as a potential contender to succeed Prime Minister Enda Kenny as leader of the ruling centre-right Fine Gael party, Health Minister Leo Varadkar made the announcement in an interview on national broadcaster RTE.

"I am a gay man. It`s not a secret but not something that everyone would necessarily know, but it isn`t something I`ve spoken publicly about before," said Varadkar, 36.

Varadkar, who was born in Dublin to an Indian father and Irish mother, said he would be campaigning in favour of same-sex marriage ahead of the May referendum and wanted to be "honest with people".

"I want people to know whatever decisions are made on issues, I`ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest," Varadkar said.

The influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the traditionally conservative country has waned in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals in Ireland, which decriminalised homosexuality in 1993.

Yet Irish Times political correspondent Fiach Kelly described the interview as a "seminal moment in Irish public life".

"A senior minister coming out probably wouldn`t have happened even 10 years ago. It is indeed a big deal," Kelly wrote.

Polls indicate that Ireland is likely to vote in favour of same-sex marriage in the landmark referendum in May, which follows the introduction of civil partnerships in 2011.

Equality groups and opposition parties welcomed the minister`s announcement.

"His courage will inspire many others who would like to be open about who they are," said Kieran Rose, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).

"Minister Varadkar`s interview today sends a very strong signal that LGBT people can aspire to and achieve the highest political office in Ireland."

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