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Jerry Buttimer - just an Irish politician "who happens to be gay"

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A well respected Irish politician, Jerry Buttimer (FG), has this weekend come out as gay.

The Deputy joins the a small but growing club of openly gay Irish politicians, and has said that he has received 'lots of support' for the announcement since it was made over the weekend.

Buttimer, who serves the Cork South Central electoral district for Fine Gael, is one of the most active Irish politicians on Twitter, and was first elected to his local city council of Cork City in 2004.

Like many Irish politicians Buttimer served as a secondary school teacher before entering the political fray - still one of the most common vocations among budding Irish public representatives - where his last job was as the Director of Adult Education at a local suburban school.

IrishCentral's Molly Muldoon reported last year how Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons (Lab) became (then) the first openly gay candidates to partake in the Dáil, Ireland's upper legislative chamber; Buttimer could perhaps be described as among the first politicians of national prominence and stature to do so.

Whether Buttimer will be among a new group of trailblazing gay politicians or another relatively isolated example remains to be seen, but he does provide a vital boost in prominence for openly gay politicians in Ireland.

The number of full-time public representatives in Ireland remains comparatively small, but the fact that the Houses are already beginning to offer an honest reflection of the ethnic diversity extant within Modern Ireland is an encouraging reflection of the times.

Rotimi Abedari, the Nigerian-born mayor of Portlaoise, the Jewish Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, and Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant to Ireland, are just some of the minorities now rightfully represented within Irish politics, who together offer an encouraging insight into the type of pluralism that forms part of a new Irish tradition.

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Buttimer decided to announce his homosexuality in as unstartling a light as possible, although the very idea of a gay mainstream politician will continue to raise eyebrows among some parts of the Irish population.

“I am a TD who just happens to be gay – it is just one little composition of the story that is me and I will continue to be the politician I was yesterday,” he told the Irish Examiner yesterday, and Newstalk FM this morning.

While the story has not garnered the kind of publicity some might have expected it would, Buttimer's open gayness does set down a major milestone for gay rights and social progression in Ireland.

Just six years ago the Irish Independent reported how, with the notable exception of Senator David Norris, both halves of Ireland's bicameral political arrangement were bereft of openly gay members, while the then editor of Gay Community News, Brian Finnegan, described it as the "last big hurdle" for gays to face.

In 2009, a former Mayor of Limerick, Councillor Diarmuid Scully (FG), called on politicians to 'stop living double lives' and come out as gay, adding that Irish politics was one of the 'last bastions of homophobia' in Ireland.

Back in 2003, Suzy Byrne, a lesbian and former president of the International Lesbian and Gay Youth Organisation, was able to tell the Irish Independent that Ireland had not yet had any 'gay politicians, judges, lawyers or journalists coming out,' Hannigan and Lyons having not yet come on the scene.

And while Norris worked almost single-handedly to push the homosexual rights agenda forward during the late 80s and early 90s, he, at least in the political realm, remained a largely isolated and exceptional figure.

So perhaps the former Mayor of Limerick had a good point, and change, at least for gay politicians, will be slow coming, but Buttimer can certainly take credit for having played no small role in changing the evolving face of Irish politics.

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