Statement by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar

Thank you Phil and Bunny and good afternoon everyone.  This is my eleventh day in the job, and it’s certainly been a whirlwind.  I want to thank both for their support for me when I asked for it, and long before I knew how to. And so I pledge as Taoiseach to use my office, for as long as I hold it, to advance the cause of LGBT rights, to press for marriage equality across Ireland, to speak up for LGBT rights around the world where they are under attack, and to push for the implementation of the sexual health strategy here at home at a time when it is more important than ever.

The day I became Taoiseach was also a sad day.  It was the same day a great champion of freedom and equality in this country passed away.

I know all of us were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, a brilliant academic and community leader, whose courage helped change the laws in this country.  Our thoughts are with Ann Louise’s wife, Katherine, at this time.  Together they have been an inspiration to so many people in this country, and around the world.

In 1992 RTE estimated that the number of people at this parade was 200.  Ten years later the figure was 6,000.  In 2012 it was 30,000.  If someone had predicted back in 1992 that one year later homosexuality would be decriminalised, or that 23 years later gay and lesbian people would be legally able to marry the person they love, or that two years after that a gay man would be elected Taoiseach of the country, then I think they would actually have been derided.   So history can be slow to move, but when it does move it moves very quickly.

Sometimes people are surprised that not all LGBT people support my policies, or celebrated my election as Taoiseach. In fact, some activists get quite annoyed when I don’t agree with them on every other issue.

But I think that is actually a good and a healthy thing because the LGBT community is not a political monolith where everyone thinks the same or believes the same thing.

If it was, it would be a political ghetto and I don’t think we want to have anything like that.

We are of course a diverse community in ourselves, with people from all sorts of opinions: left, right and centre, secular, religious, pro-choice and not, for globalisation and also campaigning against it.  So, I don’t really ask anyone to celebrate the fact that we have a Taoiseach who is a gay man.  But rather we should celebrate the fact that we live in a free country – in a democracy where we have a Taoiseach who happens to be gay.  We are able to support or criticise him, due to our own beliefs and principles which (to me) is true freedom.

And speaking of freedom – under my leadership this country won’t shirk our responsibilities on the international stage and we will be the voice for toleration, respect and equality around the world.

To conclude, I would like to leave you with one final thought.  When we look back on all that has happened in this country over the past few years, all the progress that has been made, remember that this was not due to any one person.

It was because of a movement, a movement made up of you and your friends and your families and supporters.

I don’t think my election as Taoiseach actually made history, it just reflected it, reflected the enormous changes that had already occurred in our country.

So, I don’t think that I have changed things for you; I think people like you have changed things for me.

And for that I am very grateful. Thank you.

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

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