If politicians in the south are feeling strong enough to ‘come out’, why not the north?

Whatever you think of Dominic Hannigan’s politics, the Labour TD took several goes at trying to represent the good people of Meath East… John Lyons came through at the first time of asking in the more working class constituency of Dublin North–West. They did so with the voters in full knowledge that they were gay. Cork South Central Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer has decided to follow suite and himself come out.

I very much doubt they are the only gay TDs elected to the Oireachtas, and it’s notable that most of them represent large urban or semi urban areas. But there is no doubt, as Fionnuala O’Connor noted in the Irish News yesterday, that a much larger degree of openness around the subject can do nothing but help in a society where the private life of almost every family has changed whilst public life has lagged:

…in every family, or almost every family, someone has gathered all their courage and told parents, siblings, one sister or a favoured aunt, or they’re about to say the words. The distressing counterbalance is that in every few streets someone else is living in dread and living a lie”.

It used to be joked about in certain bars (I’m told) that there were three communities in Belfast: Catholic, Protestant and gay. And it’s almost certainly true that although the smallest of the three, that gays and lesbians per capita suffered more stress and harm than the other two put together…

Last word to Fionnuala:

If any, or better still every gay politician in Sinn Fein, the SDLP, DUP, Ulster Unionists and the smaller parties would speak out like Jerry Buttimer with strong support from their hero colleagues, they would be blessed – by the young and not so young, who’ve been shamed into silence.


  • Drumlins Rock


    This was the actions of the largest party in 2005, and you ask why?

  • PaulT

    fenians and fairies, Drumlins Rock, fenians and fairies

    on a more serious note, can’t believe this topic was broached without reference to Cathrine Tate.


    My sons a gay man…………

  • Old Mortality

    Ms O’Connor clearly does not entertain the possibility that there are no homosexual MLAs which means she is relying on crude probability or she knows things of which we ordinary mortals are totally ignorant.

  • Drumlins Rock

    PaulT, that sketch illustrates one of the problems, any politician who comes out would become the “gay rights advocate” for the assembly, dare I say just as Anna Lo has become the ethnic minorities advocate. Some would not desire to be pidgeoned holed even if it wasn’t an issue otherwise.

  • galloglaigh

    [text removed – card to follow]. In fact, when one went for a gay massage, he had an injunction to block it from his evangelical friends in Mid-Ulster. The fear is rife!

    Might get a card for that?

  • I know members of two political parties who are gay. I believe that at least one political party (probably more) attends the “Pride” March in Belfast. So certainly within some political parties there would be no “problem” with a gay candidate. Indeed I understand that one candidate in 2010 was gay. Thats a matter for him.
    Let me emphasise that there SHOULD be no problem as the general population is accepting of the situation. Passing a s election committee meeting in some political parties might be a difficulty.
    Not the same thing of course but at least two political parties fielded candidates from minority, migrant or ethnic background in 2011 and would clearly have no problem with a candidate being gay. Nor do I think that the majority of voters would have a problem.

    Being Gay is not a question of “Morality”. Arguably the voters may think that the issue of marital fidelity (hetrosexual or homosexual) is a bigger issue. But there are divorced MLAs. The public vote for them.
    Would anyone seriously NOT vote for a person because he’she is divorced or seperated.
    I note that a number of MLAs refer to a “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife”. Which perhaps indicates a relationship unsanctioned by a Church. Is anybody really bothered in 2012?
    The plain fact is that there have been generational changes unforeseen by our great-grandparents.
    We vote for people who have done some things that are anti-social and downright seriously “criminal”. Rightly or wrongly their voters are at ease with it.
    I cant honestly think that a gay person has anything to fear……except possibly non-selection by one political party.

    Crude probabilities are just that. The point about the three TDs in the original post is that THEY made a choice. A lot of people dont want their choices made public. And speculation is tacky.
    The balance of probability is that any MLA in a closet is doing so by choice rather than fear.
    Fair play to them (if any).

  • Drumlins Rock

    Probably the two highest profile gay rights political figures are Alliance Cllr. Andrew Muir, and Senior UUP member Jeff Dudgeon. It shouldn’t be an issue nor of more than passing interest.

  • PaulT

    “PaulT, that sketch illustrates one of the problems, any politician who comes out would become the “gay rights advocate” for the assembly, dare I say just as Anna Lo has become the ethnic minorities advocate. Some would not desire to be pidgeoned holed even if it wasn’t an issue otherwise.”

    True Drumlins Rock, but surely that’s part of the process, but perhaps Ireland is further along than NI as Norris’s run at the Pres job didn’t focus on his sexuality, even with a minor sex scandal in the mix

  • Mick Fealty

    A long way I would say… But look at the constituencies above… To one degree or another they are largely metropolitan or in the east.

    We don’t have that many urban/urbane constituencies in NI.. How many who might want to come out would have the kind of constituency that they could trust to re-elect them?

  • JR

    In my opinion the south is just a more tolerant place. When I went to university in Dublin I felt people were much more relaxed about those who stood out from the crowd. There was a very live and let live attitude.

    I also experianced quite a contrast between the place I used to work in galway and where I work now in Newry. In Galway people talked more openly about things. They let their guard down more. From time to time conversations were of a more personal and deeper level. People were comfortable expressing more diverse opinions on things.

    In Newry any subject other than TV or football is discussed in a hurried whisper. People are quicker slag you or to take you down a peg for talking about anything vaguly intilectual or espressing an opinion that is a bit differant.

  • JR,

    Galway is not typical of the entire Republic! Nor I suppose is Newry typical of the North (although I have no direct experience of it). Yes, Galway is a much more relaxed place than pretty much anywhere else I have lived, but there is also a cliquey feel about it. If you weren’t born and schooled in the city you have to expend significant effort to be socially included – something I never experienced in Belfast for example.

  • Mick Fealty

    I always think of Galway as the new Irish Brighton, Dublin (4) by the sea…

  • carlota martinez

    I have no doubt that the prevailing social climate in the South is more favourably disposed towards gay people than in the North; although, as has been suggested, this is more particularly so in urban areas than in rural ones.

    I think people there are more relaxed about sexual orientation. It has helped that a number of public figures have acknowledged their homosexuality, including one well known sports figure (Cork hurler, Donal Og Cusack).

    This side of the Border there is an unwillingness to raise the issue. As “JR” says people get uncomfortable when the subject is broached.

    I know a few political activists who are gay. None of them hold public office (yet!) but I don’t think their sexual orientation would be a deal breaker if they were to go before the electorate.

  • tacapall

    The only people who are uncomfortable about talking about their sexual orientation is the older generation as there is a large gay community in Belfast who are comfortable with their sexuality and not afraid to show it, especially among the female population and especially among the younger generation. This has all to do with the younger population distancing itself away from religion and political parties who are very up front in their objections to a persons right to choose their own sexuality.

  • DC

    I don’t think it was sexual orientation at the heart of the trouble of coming out, it was more likely in the past that a certain person’s purported political values conflicted with his or her personal ones. God-fearing Ulstermen and all that. Having complex sexual tastes towards certain humans probably only served to dilute christian principles in the good book, where black and white must remain black and white regardless of you carrying out and living a good life.

    Perhaps a successful coming out and coping strategy would be to disclose being bi-sexual in order not to seem an outright hypocrite, the family-man-type is actually gay at heart.

  • Co. Down Man

    Sinn Fein has openly gay reps. Whether the media has picked up on that or not, not to sure, it’s a non issue for the party.

  • seamus60

    Think it should be a non issue for any party. Can`t see many voting for one against the other because of their view on the subject. There are many more important issues that will affect society than peoples sexuality.
    Politicians only concern with this issue should be that there are laws in place for the protection of all individuals rights as equals. Politicians sexuality should have no bearing either. Come on out folks regardless of where you live, its only weirdos that will be indifferant.

  • Framer

    Interesting in a way, that nobody even recalls the Alliance Party has three gay councillors,

  • Why not the North?

    The answer is probably to be found in the history and evolution of prejudice and bigotry. Different areas evolve at different rates. Northern Ireland will probably be last on the list in Western Europe because it is, apparently, the bigoted capital of the Western World.


    Could it be that such prejudice still has a hold over the selection of candidates?

    Probably until very recently but I dare say that somebody here will soon regared it as a political niche and “come out”

  • Framer

    Seymour – blaming prejudice in candidate selection doesn’t explain why no SF or SDLP MLA or MP is or has been gay given both parties have long had exceptionally pro-gay policies.

    That UU 2007 survey is very dubious. One telling oddity was that Canada equalled Northern Ireland in the level of homophobia of its bigoted people.
    Perhaps the respondents here and there are just more honest.