TWO high-profile Northside politicians have lifted the lid on what life is like for gay men in Irish politics. But if you’re looking for sensationalism you should stop reading now.
Deputy John Lyons (Lab), who was elected to the Dáil last year as a TD for Dublin North West, shared his experience of being one of only a handful of openly gay men in politics. But Fingal councillor Cian O’Callaghan (Lab), who became Ireland’s first openly gay mayor last month, expressed surprise that it has taken until 2012 for that claim to be made.
Both politicians are adamant that they don’t want to be pigeonholed for their sexuality but say it’s still an important part of who they are.
“It’s not that unusual to have a gay politician and to be honest it really makes no difference what sexuality you are in this job or any other,” Cllr O’Callaghan told Northside People.
“It’s a surprise that it’s taken till 2012 for a gay politician to be elected as a mayor. In one way it’s a sad reflection that this is a milestone.”
Cllr O’Callaghan (33) explained how, more than anything else, his age and constitutional issues will shape what his priorities are as a local representative and as the county’s mayor.
“Being a local councillor is quite straightforward as there are a number of issues you tend to focus on,” he said.
“For me the big issues that are affecting people my age are pyrite, the unemployment situation and mortgage arrears.
“I couldn’t be a councillor without addressing the bread and butter issues on the ground.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Lyons (35) said he understands why his personal life is a source of interest but added that he doesn’t want to be “pigeonholed as a one-trick pony” as a gay TD.
“I’ve been openly gay for as long as I can remember, probably since college, so it’s not something I talk about very much because it’s just who I am,” he told Northside People.
“Although I learned very quickly when I entered national politics by becoming a TD last year that there is an innate interest in who you are.
“In one way I was delighted and willing to highlight how far we’ve come as a country to have openly gay individuals in high-profile positions in politics and hopefully that will change how we legislate law.
“I guess it hit home even more when I realised just what it meant to the gay community when I got a letter from a middle-aged man in Terenure who said a lot of people were walking much taller because of who I am and how far I’d come as a person and professional.”
Deputy Lyons insists that the vast majority of politicians and constituents alike know that the job is about politics and policies, not sexuality.
“It’s not about who you sleep with at the end of the day and I firmly believe that the truth prevails over those with narrow minds,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned I haven’t been treated any different to any other politician.
“I think every politician worries about public perception and I’d be lying if I didn’t think of whether I lose votes because of my sexuality but it doesn’t matter.”
Deputy Lyons, who is in a long-term relationship, explained how he is adjusting to life as “public property in a job that’s 24/7” and that as a result his personal life isn’t all that exciting.
“I think the reality is whether you are gay, straight, single or married that everything else in life outside of politics suffers,” he said.
“Your friends are people in your contact list that you must try to find the time to check in with. Your family are people that you only see in pictures almost.
“Politics is all-consuming and it’s a big adjustment for not just me but for those around me.
“It’s exhausting as well to the point of when I have time off I’m more than happy to stay in doing the normal humdrum things like ironing shirts for the week ahead, giving the kitchen and floors a good clean or going to a coffee shop and getting to read the paper from front to back.”