Varadkar tells of desire for privacy and fears homophobia is ‘acceptable again’

The Taoiseach said he and his partner have pulled back from being as public about their relationship.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he and his partner have pulled back from being as public about their relationship out of a desire for privacy.

The Taoiseach has opened up about his upbringing, his sexuality and personal moments in his life.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner’s The Ciara Phelan Podcast, he said he believes his relationship with doctor Matt Barrett is treated differently than that of other political leaders because he is gay and not married.

“I do think to a certain extent though, as well, at least for a couple of years, we were quite public in our relationship. We have pulled back from that a bit,” he said.

He said this was done out of “a desire for a certain degree of privacy”, describing being a public figure in Ireland as like “the fish in the fishbowl”.

He also said that in the last year or two, there has been a “snap back” in Ireland in relation to homophobia.

He said: “Homophobia has become a little bit more acceptable again, I’m not sure why, I think the debate around trans issues might be part of that, it’s become a gateway for some people to become homophobic again,” he said.

When asked about his sexuality, he said that from a young age he knew he was different.

“I would have known early on that I was probably gay, maybe as young as seven or eight or nine, certainly in teenage years, but probably kind of thought it was probably a phase that might pass,” he said.

“In my 20s I was a very serious person, was really into politics and was a councillor, very involved in Fine Gael, and then as well, was a junior doctor, so very busy with work.

Leo Varadkar and Matt Barrett
Leo Varadkar said he and partner Matt Barrett desire more privacy (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

“For my age group, we’re often in our mid-20s or 30s, and a lot of us say the same thing: we became very committed and interested in career, or other interests, in part to convince ourselves that we were too busy for relationships.”

He said that when he told his parents he is gay, his father “wasn’t surprised at all” but his mother was, and was afraid his sexuality would be used against him in his career.

“I had a lot of concerns that people would see me differently and treat me differently, and that didn’t really happen,” he said.

He said his parents’ GP clinic, based in “what would have been our converted garage” in Dublin, gave him a “good start in life” and meant he was well known in the community when he ran for a council seat.

He said he sometimes gets “pigeonholed as being posh”, but he does not think he is “any posher” than Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, Labour leader Ivana Bacik or Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns.

He also said it is not fair to characterise him as “gaffe-prone”, but admitted his willingness to speak his mind sometimes gets him into trouble.

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