Ireland – An Island At The Centre Of The World (or why the ‘ah sure it’s grand philosophy’ won’t cut it anymore) Sunday’s “Coffee with Colm”

I like Leo. He seems like a nice man; he appears genuine and he has class – I, for one, am a fan and am happy to have this elegant gentleman represent our little country as An Taoiseach (pronounced on-tea-shock).

Leo represents a new Ireland – the youngest ever and the first from a minority ethnic background to hold the post; his father from Mumbai, India, his mother from Waterford.

Leo Varadkar is not only a gentleman, not only our Prime Minister, not only an intelligent, articulate man, he is openly gay. Talk about shaking things up!

I met Leo recently at a breakfast briefing in Limerick and thanked him for his good work on many fronts. During his speech that morning in The Castletroy Park Hotel, he used the most intriguing phrase to describe Ireland – ‘An Island At The Centre of the World’ – wonderful phrase, perfectly apt and true(ish) when you look at the standard flat map of the world we all take as gospel.

Though not the first country in the world to legalize (recognize) same sex marriage as equal to… (The term marriage equality refers to a political status in which the marriages of same-sex couples and the marriages of opposite-sex couples are recognized as equal by the law…Wikipedia) that of opposite sex couples under law, Ireland was the first country to welcome same sex marriage in a referendum of the people almost three years ago, on May 22nd, by an overwhelming majority; 1.2m (62%) said Yes, 700k, 38% said No and 60% of voters turned out on the day.

Wikipedia goes on to say… The recognition of same-sex marriage is considered to be a human rights, civil rights, political, social, … issue.

For me, that was a proud day – Ireland grew a tad taller – and no, I’m not gay. Ireland, the new Ireland, took a big brave step that has allowed other countries and jurisdictions to follow or to begin the process to follow suit. We wish them well.

Same with No Smoking. Ireland enacted a bill in 2004 that banned smoking in all public places – I remember it well – there was tremendous fallout, particularly from the pub trade, and in fairness, that industry was hit especially hard and many pubs ended up closing, though based on my own experience of losing a hospitality business in that period, ridiculous rents may have had a part to play and perhaps the smoking ban was, dare I say it, a smoke screen covering the truth in some cases.

It was quite jarring for a while but I don’t believe there are many in Ireland, smokers included, that would go back – I stand to be corrected on this. Since Ireland took that step, many other countries have followed suit.

Watch the Video (8 mins teaching), Listen to the Podcast (8 mins teaching) or Read on below for the rest of the story…

Prefer Podcast? Listen here.

What about plastic bags? In 2002, Ireland became the first country in the world to impose a levy on single use plastic bags prompting an immediate 90% reduction in their use – how cool is that? Again, Ireland stepped up first, many other countries followed.

Ireland, this Island at the Centre of the World, a David to the world’s Goliath, more than punches above its weight in many areas and on many issues. More than 80 million people globally claim Irish heritage, not bad for an island of currently only six million souls that at its height never had more than eight million. Interestingly Leo told the assembled audience that by 2040 the island is likely to have returned to a population of 8 million, meaning it has taken 200 years – two centuries – to recover from the devastation caused by the great famine of the 1840’s when one million died of starvation and another million emigrated.

But the eight million population will be a very different eight million to that of 200 years ago – all we have to do is walk down our high streets or visit our schools to see the myriad colours of the new Irish and to hear the wonderful cacophony of languages and accents to realize that we have become a rainbow nation, never to return to our freckled skinned, red haired past – and that, I think is a good thing.

As I’ve said before I have the privileged of speaking to kids all over Ireland in my role as MD of Carambola and it is truly inspiring to see so many nationalities under one roof – schools with 30 and 40 different nationalities, and often many more mother tongues when one takes dialect into account – truly exciting, though currently challenging for many stakeholders.

By the way, I tell kids they are in school for two reasons and two reasons only:

1. to learn how to learn – that is the underlying skill the system is teaching by using maths, Irish, English, Geography, etc – teh skill of breaking a subject down to get to understand it so that it can be put back together in a unique way by the individual and

2. to learn how to work with other people. And in the new Ireland, this Island at the Centre of the World with so many nationalities represented, those two skills are more important now and will become increasingly so in the years ahead.

Somewhat embarrassed to say I attended a family Confirmation recently and found myself intrigued and wonderfully excited to find a black family there, a Mom – a working professional – and her three beautiful little girls. Why am I embarrassed to say it? I am embarrassed to say it because it was so unusual – because I found it intriguing – folks, I am 55 and I don’t recall us as a family ever having a coloured family attend our family events. It shouldn’t be intriguing, it should be the norm. And in the new Ireland, it will be. That makes me happy.

What’s next for Ireland?

May 25th 2018: a referendum will be held and citizens of Ireland will be asked to vote on whether to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment on 25 May.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn. This amendment created a constitutional recognition of the right to life of the unborn, thereby restricting legislation for abortion to circumstances where the life of a pregnant woman was at risk. It was effected by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983, which was approved by referendum on 7 September 1983 and signed into law on the 7th of October of the same year.

Not an easy debate.

Study the issues. Vote what’s right for you.

And then there’s Brexit!

No idea what’s going to happen here in Ireland when the UK officially becomes our largest offshore island (!) having voted on 23rd June 2016 by a very narrow majority to leave the EU. The UK will leave the EU at midnight on my 56th birthday, 30th March 2019.

What’s going to happen? No idea. Leo and the gang are tasked with working that stuff out for now and I know they will do their best. Regardless of how it falls, I know Ireland, the new, more confident, Ireland, will adapt and thrive. How do I know this? Because that is what we have always done, history gives us great solace, we are survivors.

Let’s not however, get back to hard borders between us and our brothers and sisters in the North our island.

One thing I know, Brexit is an opportunity. Ireland, this small Island at the Centre of the World, becomes centre stage – the only English speaking country in Europe – a country that has never invaded another foreign state, a friendly country, an easy-going country, a country of the céad míle fáilte’s (the hundred thousand welcomes) that does in fact welcome outsiders, that remembers its history and the challenges its own citizens faced when they were forced to emigrate for opportunity and indeed simply to survive.

Yes Brexit is a world-class opportunity for our little Island at the Centre of the World.

But it is only opportunity if Ireland as a nation steps up and becomes in every facet itself, world class. The ‘sure it’s grand’ philosophy of our past, simply won’t do in this new world order.

How do we do that? How do we become world class in every facet? One citizen at a time. I need to become world class and so do you.

I’m up for it.

Are you?

I hope so.

I’ll finish with the wonderful Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This applies as much to our beautiful, perfectly formed Island at the Centre of the World, as it does to you and me.

Ireland. An Island at the Centre of the World. Pretty cool! Can’t wait to see what happens.


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MORE. Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sniff at some of my other “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Last week’s “Coffee with Colm” – ‘100 Year Work’ – Click here
  • The day my life changed forever – when I met ‘The Man On The Train’ – Click here.
  • How to step up and ‘Make Your Competition Irrelevant’ – Click here

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Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


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