Yesterday Ireland's Health Minister Leo Varadkar became the first openly gay minister in the country's history.

That’s clearly a significant development, but interestingly, moments after he made the announcement, the Irish public made a mad dash to Facebook and Twitter to type thousands of heartfelt “who cares?” reactions.

Their ho-hum comments were both heartening and instructive.

They were heartening because the majority of Irish voters clearly do not believe that being gay affects Varadkar’s suitability to be an Irish government minister.

And they were instructive because if you genuinely don’t care about something how often do you take to social media to loudly say so?

The truth is there are still quite a lot of people who care a great deal when a public figure comes out, perhaps especially when they make history by doing so.

By noon yesterday there were 185 articles written about Varadkar’s announcement trending on Google, many of them posted by the international press. His name was also the top trending topic in Ireland all day long.

That’s quite a lot of interest for a subject that interests no one. Perhaps the Irish public doth protest too much.

On the face of it nothing about Varadkar’s public life or politics suggested that an announcement of this type would ever be forthcoming. Varadkar, 36, is a senior figure in the traditionally conservative Fine Gael party.

The fact that his announcement on Sunday was not immediately followed by a hurried resignation is the best indication of how much times have truly changed.

It was also the kind of political Houdini act that American conservative leaders here can still only dream of. Not only has Varadkar made a potential negative into a positive, he has just strengthened his hand going into what is sure to be a bruising and hard fought referendum over same sex marriage in Ireland.

Already one of the most high profile and highly regarded politicians of his generation, Varadkar is widely tipped to become a potential future leader of his party and – as taoiseach (prime minister) – a possible future leader of the country.

His admission was masterfully timed. In recent weeks it it had become apparent that some media outlets and political campaigns were waiting for an opportune moment to out Varadkar themselves.

Whisper campaigns were being conducted, veiled references to his personal life were increasingly being made. And all of this was an ominous curtain raiser for the forthcoming referendum on same sex marriage scheduled for May.

But by speaking openly and honestly to the nation yesterday Varadkar instantly defused that smear campaign. Not only that, he did something remarkable for a politician, he was seen to tell the truth.

Yesterday Twitter reactions ranged from the supportive to the unintentionally hilarious. Congratulating Varadkar on his courage, Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames used the eye-catching and wholly unnecessary hashtag #sexualorientation.

Eames instantly found herself being lampooned nationwide by tweets like this one by @evelyncullen: “Just going down to the shops for a Lion bar #sexualorientation.”

Meanwhile the challenges ahead for the minister – and for the nation's LGBT community – are far from settled. Varadkar, a doctor, is – thanks to an archaic and homophobic law – now the first Irish Health minister precluded from giving blood himself.

He is also unable to marry. Religious organizations, medical institutions and educational institutions can all still legally discriminate against him on employment grounds – and he and any potential partner can not jointly adopt.

Given those formidable challenges, the thousands who were crying “who cares” yesterday might want to remember why gay people in Ireland are forced to.

Yesterday Varadkar underlined he wants to be an “equal citizen in my own country” and added that he intends to discuss his own sexuality as the referendum campaign on same-sex marriage intensifies.

In 2015 a senior Irish Cabinet Minister has just expressed the desire to become an equal citizen of his own country, an extraordinary admission. It’s one you really have to take notice of – and hopefully care about.

For his efforts Varadkar may have felt exposed yesterday as never before in his political or personal life. But forthrightness can lead on to freedom. He was strong before, but he may be unstoppable now.