Cork Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer announced earlier on this week that he was gay and has won plaudits and praise for his bravery at coming out in such a positive manner. Buttimer was keen to point out that he is “A TD who just happens to be gay” and that it would not and should not be an issue.
The move came as it was also announced there would be a new forum to push for equality amongst the gay community, with Buttimer feeling that the time was now right for him to speak out. In a largely unprecedented move for the current incumbent government Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also given Buttimer his full and unstinting support, making a pledge to address the Forum personally in the Autumn of this year.
A Positive Move All Round
His courage has been roundly welcomed by the Lesbian and Gay Community in Ireland. In an interview with the Irish Independent which can be read in full here, he says he has had great support from his family and friends and that he is “A gay person, it’s part of me, it is not who I am”.
He is about to start a role as chairman of the Fine Gael Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Group, and becomes the third Irish politician within the last twelve months to come out.
Previous politicians to make similar announcements are John Lyons who is party member for Dublin North West and Dominic Hannigan, member for Meath East. Both Lyons and Hannigan also have the distinction of being the first openly gay candidates to partake in the Dail, Ireland’s Upper Legislative Chamber. Buttimer’s announcement, however, is seen as coming from one of the most high profile and well respected politicians who is in Irish public life currently.
Mr Buttimer, who was born in Bishopstown was first elected to Cork City Council some eight years ago in 2004. In 2007 his candidacy was unsuccessful at the General Election for his constituency but was elected to the Seanad Eireann. Prior to his career in politics he was a secondary school teacher and a Director of Adult Education at the Ballincollig Community School.
Encouragement for other Politicians and Public Figures
Debate now surrounds whether this announcement will encourage other politicians and public figures that are gay or lesbian to make the same move and come out. Buttimer’s stance could be seen as one that blazes a trail for the future. The way in which he has chosen to handle his coming out has similarly been praised as being done in an open, positive manner – with a few simple, clear, concise interviews within the Irish press and no real fuss.
Of course, there are sadly, bound to be objectors and people who will perhaps be less understanding of the situation, Mr Buttimer would be the first to admit that you cannot please all the people all the time.
As far back as 2009 Fine Gael Councillor Diarmuid Scully was quoted as saying that he believed politicians should “stop leading double lives and come out as gay” adding that Irish politics was being viewed as one of the last bastions of homophobia in the country. You don’t have to travel far or end up having to compare holiday money to find people who will still sadly object to this kind of thing within Ireland and it’s a sad state of affairs in this day and age that these kinds of viewpoints still exist. Given Mr Buttimer’s high profile within Fine Gael and the fact that he is such a well respected individual it’s hoped that this might provide a swing shift towards a more tolerant approach. In a piece written for the Irish Journal which can be read in full here, Mr Buttimer makes it clear he wants declarations like the one he made at the weekend to soon become a thing of the past – he fully believes that his announcement was necessary in the fight to attain civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone no matter what colour, creed or sexuality they might be. In particular he is one of the most prolific users of social networking sites like Twitter and said he has garnered incredible messages of support via tweets from people and had found this very heartening. His announcement and his hopefully continued high profile work within the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community can only be applauded and welcomed.
-by Imogen Reed