Transgender women are allowed to take part in Ireland’s most famous beauty pageant, the Rose of Tralee, the festival’s CEO confirmed today.

Previously the pageant had said trans women weren’t eligible to take part, but following a public backlash they changed their mind.

“The Festival is a progressive organization that always strives to reflect changes in society in the entry guidelines for women,” the festival originally told the Irish Mirror earlier this week. “Transgender women entering is not something we are considering at the moment, however, we will continue to review our guidelines.”

The move took many by surprise, not least as Ireland has been applauded as a world leader in transgender rights after its parliament passed the Gender Recognition Act 2015. The Act gave individuals the legal right to change their gender without medical treatment and have their birth certificate and other documents reissued and enjoyed strong cross-party support.

Former Roses had even led the charge for more trans participation in the festival.  

Actually calling all feminists/mixed race/queer/trans ladies to apply for the Rose wherever you live https://t.co/6SPHknodpK

— Brianna Parkins (@parkinsbrea) January 27, 2017

Now the festival’s CEO Anthony O’Gara has backtracked, insisting, “Of course she’s welcome, she’s a woman. I’m not particularly interested in her personal life unless she wants to express that.”

He continued when pressed by an RTÉ journalist, “We said it’s not something we are considering at the moment in the context of how we would handle it or prepare for it.

“We would sit down and talk about a sensitive issue like that and we would try and do it under the radar.

“We said that we are in a place where we had to take time to consider that issue.

“We were were simply trying to say it that it is a sensitive situation that we have to prepare ourselves.”

The Rose of Tralee’s website states that applicants must be female Irish citizens or of Irish origin, aged between 18 and 28 and be neither married nor divorced. As Irish trans women are legally women, many thought the festival original statement inherently contradictory.

While I'm not alone in saying you couldn't PAY me 2 enter #Roseoftralee, their trans ban is perpetuating transphobia &they should be ashamed

— Bella FitzPatrick (@Bellaknit) February 2, 2017

The news was welcomed by the Mayor of Tralee who said, “I would certainly encourage the committee of the festival to constantly review what is going on and what would be good for the festival.”

The Rose of Tralee began in 1959 and every year brings together women from each of Ireland’s 32 counties and the diaspora for two nights of “a global celebration of Irish culture.”

Critics have derided it as anti-feminist and a “lovely girls” competition, but it has it’s had its socially progressive moments too. In 2014 Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh won the crown and came out as a lesbian days later and last year the competition questioned candidates about their views on the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution that bans abortion.

Gay 'Rose of Tralee' winner Maria Walsh shows the rapid change in Irish society #lgbt #ireland #lesbian #mayo http://t.co/qvj2fdXgrQ

— (((DiscoHobbit))) (@Welshbeard) September 14, 2014

 H/T The Irish Mirror

The 2016 Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney with host Daithí Ó SéRTE