'I got a lovely text from Leo when I came out'
For a chap who had suddenly found himself propelled back into the spotlight after four years out of it, Pat Carey was remarkably unruffled as he strolled into RTÉ's canteen.
It was 6.30pm, and the former Fianna Fáil minister had spent since early yesterday morning talking about himself and his life as a gay man. And it was a life which only began for him in 2011 after the bloodbath of the general election when he began to come out to his family and close friends.
The reaction to the 67-year-old former politician's declaration was immediate. "I got a lovely text from Leo Varadkar," he said. "And also some messages from former colleagues whose response was 'What's he up to now? He must definitely be running again'," he laughed.
Whatever about yesterday's announcement, which Pat reckoned went "very smoothly," he admits that some people were hurt when he initially came out four years ago - and one of them was his erstwhile former Cabinet colleague and close friend, Mary Hanafin.
"I did tell her, but I had told other people first, and I know she was offended because I didn't tell her sooner, and it has affected our friendship because of the way I dealt with it, and I'm sorry that happened," he said. "She was fine about it and just wanted to know if I was sure with my decision, and I told her I couldn't go the grave not doing something about this. I hope we renew our friendship in the future. I take full responsibility for any offence, however unintended," he added.
Pat had already spoken of how his hectic work schedule as a public representative made it easier not to deal with his personal life.
He did have gay friends, and sometimes the subject arose. "The discussions were always tentative and maybe when they got close to the bone I would find some way of talking about something else.
"I just didn't deal with it at all, using the pretext that I was too busy, and when I did deal with it, I grabbed the bull by the horns and contacted my family who were fine."
Pat had gone through a rough election campaign, made no easier by the fact that a relationship ended in the middle of it. "I would've liked to be able to share the grief of that campaign with someone at the time," he admitted.
As he had held the post of Equality Minister, he had made friends among the gay community, which made coming out easier for him. "A lot of the launches were in the Front Lounge, and venues like that. One night I ended up at a gay disco with a bit of drink taken, and people kept coming up saying, 'Jaysis, great to see you here, Pat'".
And he met his current partner of four years online, though their paths had crossed earlier during work on the civil partnership bill. "We hit it off very quickly, he's 45, I'm 67," he said. But for the present, Pat is keeping his partner (who isn't from Ireland) out of the spotlight. "He's happy to be gay but, like myself, he's not big into the scene. He's much more domesticated than me, he loves the garden and fishing and he's a good cook."
After over 30 years of living alone, Pat still finds he has to adjust to being under the same roof as his partner, even though they moved in together in October 2011. "We're a bit like that sit-com, The Odd Couple", he laughed. "Sometimes I can be awfully fastidious, I'll put the shirts where they always were, and the saucepans and plates where I always had them, and there's nearly war if things aren't where I thought they'd be".
Pat's wearing a couple of plain metal rings - he bought one while on a break with his partner in Barcelona - but neither of them are wedding-bands. Yet. If the gay marriage referendum is passed in May, he would consider formalising their relationship. "It would matter greatly to him, it gives him certainty and security," he explained.
Part of the reason that the former Dublin North-West deputy went public with his personal life this week was concern that passing the referendum will be an uphill battle. "I'm not a great campaigner, but I'll take part if I thought my involvement could benefit the campaign and ease the concerns of people, particularly those of my own generation," he said.
And certainly a softly-spoken, low-key 67-year-old Kerryman isn't scary. "I'm a pillar of respectability," he smiled, "and there are so many of us around. But I hope I'm not going to frighten people".
Relaxed and happy, Pat agreed that he's "totally at ease" with his life post-politics, and has no intention of returning to the fray.
He plans to enjoy Valentine's Day today. Yesterday evening he was waiting to see if he was to be a guest tonight on the Brendan O'Connor show. If not, he and his partner will head to their favourite local restaurant with some friends. "I've never done so much talking about myself, I don't mind it, but I'm happier in the background," he explained.
Alas for Pat Carey, it may be some time before he returns to the background. Not when there is the mother of all referendum battles on the horizon.