Big man's death casts long shadow on his home turf
Published 11/06/2011 | 05:00
"WE'RE in the constituency that Brian Lenihan represented," said Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as he stood at the entrance to Farmleigh, flanked on either side by the North's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
It was supposed to be an informal get-together, an opportunity for new ministers from both sides of the border to meet their counterparts and chat about various cross-border projects and initiatives.
But by the time all the politicians had gathered at the Phoenix Park venue, a shadow had fallen over the sunny morning, as just after 10am, news began to circulate that Brian Lenihan, TD for Dublin West, had died.
It was a subdued set of ministers who stepped from the bus which had brought them all from Government Buildings -- Michael Noonan, who succeeded Mr Lenihan in the finance portfolio, looked sombre.
Shortly before noon, the trio of Mr Kenny, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness emerged from their meeting to pay tribute to Mr Lenihan.
There were no prepared speeches -- Mr Kenny paid heartfelt and graceful tribute to a colleague.
"I'd like to say that I've known Brian Lenihan for many years, I regarded him as a friend in politics," he said.
"He exemplified wonderful courage of an enormous extent in speaking publicly about the illness that he carried so courageously, about the difficulties that he was encountering personally in dealing with that illness, which was cancer, and in carrying out his public duties in the most challenging economic circumstances for any minister for finance," Mr Kenny said, describing Mr Lenihan as "a decent man, a fine public representative and somebody who I was proud to know".
And like Mr Kenny, both the northern ministers used the word "friend" in their tributes too.
"I think each one of us, as we knew that his illness was progressing, couldn't help but be impressed by the courage that he showed. He never sought any concession for his illness. He came and did a full day's work and more," said Peter Robinson. "I, like Enda, can say that Brian was a friend."
This sentiment was echoed by Mr McGuinness who called Mr Lenihan "a very affable person, someone who was very inclusive and someone who was a character in his own right," he said. "This is a very sad day for us, we're not just losing a very experienced politician, someone who made a massive contribution to life on this island, but we also lost a very dear friend".
The trio re-emerged for a press conference when the North South Ministerial Council broke up at lunchtime, but nobody's heart was really in it. Mr Lenihan may have been Fianna Fail through and through, but his disregard for partisan politics garnered friendships which crossed party lines.
Afterwards, his constituency colleague and regular sparring partner, Labour's Joan Burton, talked about him.
"He was like his dad," said the Social Protection Minister. "He was charming, he was witty and he was a very good companion, particularly at constituency functions.
"We co-operated in a very cordial way, notwithstanding the political differences which were there and which were strong," she added.
And although the pair had frequent robust ding-dongs in the Dail, especially over the bank guarantee and NAMA, Ms Burton was at pains to express her admiration for his courage. "He had the most extraordinary energy for someone who was battling a serious illness, he was incredibly brave and a very graceful character," she said.
Transport and Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar was also swift to pay his respects to his fellow Dublin West deputy. "I got to know him well when I started off in politics as a young councillor trying to make a name for myself, and Brian was minister at that stage. I used to try and pick fights with him in the media, but he never really rose to it -- he was always the bigger man when it came to that kind of thing," he smiled.
He was a big man -- and yesterday he cast a long shadow over a sun-dappled Phoenix Park, right in the heart of his own home turf.
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