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'There is an othering when you're of colour' - Varadkar

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REVEALING: Tánaiste Leo Vardakar takes a stroll with former president Mary McAleese for RTÉ’s ‘All Walks of Life’ show

REVEALING: Tánaiste Leo Vardakar takes a stroll with former president Mary McAleese for RTÉ’s ‘All Walks of Life’ show

REVEALING: Tánaiste Leo Vardakar takes a stroll with former president Mary McAleese for RTÉ’s ‘All Walks of Life’ show

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has revealed how he experienced a sense of "othering" growing up in white, Catholic Ireland.

In a conversation with former president Mary McAleese on RTÉ's All Walks of Life series, he says his experience of feeling different resulted in him not fully embracing his Indian heritage as a child.

During the trek he talks about the impact of his mixed cultural upbringing in west Dublin in the 1980s.

"I did grow up in what was a very mono-cultural Ireland, very white, very Catholic. I was the guy with the dark skin and the funny name," he says.

"And even though I don't think I was ever subjected to any kind of racial violence or anything like that, there is an 'othering' when you're of colour."

The Dubliner made history by becoming Ireland's first openly gay taoiseach, its first of Indian descent and the youngest person (at 38) ever to hold the office when he became taoiseach in 2017.

In the show the Fine Gael leader tells McAleese he "definitely" felt different growing up as the child of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse.

"It's often just the kind of little things, you know, the kind of thing where people ask you where you're from.

"Often one you'd get asked is, do you ever go back to India? You know, I was born in the Rotunda, I grew up in west Dublin, I don't go back to India any more than I go back to Waterford or whatever," he tells McAleese good humouredly.

"No harm is meant by it. It's just ignorance in many ways, but it does make you still feel different.

"I suppose the main thing I wanted to do was to fit in. This is long before I realised I was gay, so that kind of came down the line later on.

"But that's one of the reasons why I probably didn't take much of an interest in India or being half Indian, because I think most kids just want to fit in."

In a reflective conversation along St Declan's Way in Waterford, he revealed how he made the decision to come out to himself while walking the Camino pilgrimage route in Spain.

"I think the Camino did kind of help me take the decision to come out to myself, because it had a real sense of being on a pilgrimage.

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"It's that time to think and that time to reflect. On a Camino you have to have a conversation with yourself, so I found that really useful in that sense."

On the political front, he points to housing as a source of regret.

"One thing I really regret is that we didn't make more progress on housing and homelessness more quickly.

"That was an issue that touched everyone in different ways, but we're still in government and the only place to be in politics is in government because that's where you can actually make change."

McAleese also questions him on how he responds to what is written about him.

"Nobody likes criticism, but sometimes your critics are right," he says.

"But that's why you do need a few people who are on your side. And you know when they come to you with something that you've got wrong, you can trust them.

"That can be difficult in politics... it might not be in their interest to tell you what you don't want to hear."

All Walks of Life is on RTÉ One on Friday at 8.30pm

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