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Obituary: Brian Lenihan TD

By John Cooney

Brian Lenihan, the deputy leader of Fianna Fail, who negotiated the Republic's ECB-IMF bailout last year as minister for finance while stru-ggling stoically with pancreatic cancer, died yesterday aged 52.

News of his death triggered an upsurge of emotion from all shades of political persuasion on both sides of the border.

In a remarkable recognition of his stature as the most senior member of a respected political dynasty, assessments of his contribution to public life were suspended amid unanimous emphasis on his personal qualities of charm and likability and his dedicated patriotism.

Mr Lenihan is survived by his wife Patricia, a Judge of the Republic’s Circuit Court, and his children Tom and Claire.

Born in Dublin on May 21, 1959, Brian Joseph Lenihan was the first of five children of the late Brian Lenihan, a major politician of the Jack Lynch and Charles J Haughey eras in Ireland.

A product of Jesuit schooling, the young Brian was educated at Belvedere College, where he became head prefect and was marked out as an outstanding student. His brain power accompanied him to Trinity College, Dublin. An academic career in law appeared to beckon when he pursued further studies at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he obtained a first class LL.M.

He was first elected to the Dail in April 1996 in the by-election caused by the death of his father.

After consolidating his seat at the 1997 General Election, it was widely speculated that the newly elected Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would fast-track Mr Lenihan into ministry on account of his family name and abilities.

But Mr Ahern, sensitive to continuing reports of having been at odds with the Lenihans during Brian snr's 1990 Presidential election campaign, appointed Brian jnr chairman of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

In 2002, when Mr Ahern won a second term for his Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat coalition, there was renewed anticipation that Mr Lenihan would be promoted to Cabinet. Instead, he was appointed minister of state for children, which gave him access to Cabinet but not a vote.

After 11 years in the Dail, promotion to the Irish government finally came in June 2007 when Mr Ahern, now mired in controversy at the Tribunals in Dublin Castle, unexpectedly won a third term as Taoiseach and duly appointed Mr Lenihan minister of justice.

Mr Lenihan was incoming Taoiseach Brian Cowen's surprise choice for the key finance job, the number two job in government in May 2008 after Mr Ahern stepped down.

A month after his appointment, Mr Lenihan admitted that he had the “misfortune” to take the job as the economy went into its deepest crisis since the Depression of the 1920s.

Over 14 months he introduced three severe government budgets, initiated the bank guarantee, nationalised Anglo Irish Bank and created Nama, the bank for ‘toxic’ debts.

In December 2009 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, known as ‘the silent killer’, requiring intensive treatment at the Mater Private Hospital.

When his illness was made public by TV3 before he even had time with his family, Mr Lenihan gave interviews in which he pledged to continue in office for as long as his health enabled him to function.

In the General Election last February Mr Lenihan did not take the opportunity of a golden ministerial handshake by retiring from the Dail. Instead he opted to seek re-election.

He retained his seat in Dublin West, the only former minister to win a seat for the decimated Fianna Fail in Dublin. Just last month he laughed off rumours that his condition had deteriorated. “I'm still here,” he told the Dublin Evening Herald, as he smiled to camera from a hospital bed.

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