Book reveals Cowen/Lenihan gulf
Lenihan portrayed as ‘man alone’
Deeply angered by TV3 broadcast
A LETHAL cocktail of alcohol, internal politicking and political ambition severely hampered the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's attempts to halt the accelerating collapse of the Irish economy.
A new book contains dramatic claims by the former Fianna Fail Minister Mary O'Rourke that former Taoiseach Brian Cowen made many of his political decisions “on the hoof ” in the Dail bar. Though it has been denied, many believe Mr Cowen's final fatal cabinet re-shuffle was carried on within that ‘sanctuary'.
The book also contains graphic descriptions of how the bar lobby and a party of what is described as “drinking buddies'' would fetch pints for Mr Cowen and “fill him up''. Senior circles in Fianna Fail reveal Mr Lenihan's career was stymied by the fact that he was not part of the infamous bar lobby — “he didn't buy pints'' for the Taoiseach. According to the new book on the collapse of Fianna Fail, The End of the Party, it was a myth that Brian Cowen was supportive of Mr Lenihan.
Their relationship only soured under the pressure of the economic collapse. Written by award-winning political columnist Bruce Arnold, and Jason O'Toole, the book is the first comprehensive insider account of the simultaneous implosion of the Celtic Tiger and Fianna Fail — and it also reveals the astonishing way in which a culture of hard drinking took over the party to such an extent that Mr Lenihan's non-membership of the infamous ‘ bar lobby' damaged his relationship with Mr Cowen.
One of the more dramatic claims made is that it was not unusual for the bar lobby to go back occasionally to the small cottage at the front of the Farmleigh estate with Mr Cowen “to have some more pints after last orders at the Dail bar''. Though some ministers also noted of Mr Cowen that “Jesus... he certainly drank an awful lot'' and claimed “everybody thought that when he became Taoiseach he'd stop, but he actually didn't'', other ministers strongly reject the claim.
In The End of The Party, Mary O'Rourke notes that she didn't think “Cowen went on benders, I just think he drank steadily — not during the day... no, no, no, in the evening time when he'd be finished in the Dail''. The End of the Party also reveals that in September 2010 Mr Lenihan went to Mr Cowen and pleaded with him to call an early election because he feared Ireland was going to be bullied into accepting a bailout. Mr Cowen, however, told Mr Lenihan “not to worry we will muddle through”. Weeks later, as Mr Lenihan predicted, the IMF loan was “forced'' upon him.
The book claims the critical relationship between Mr Cowen and his Minister for Finance turned into an “unholy union'' of two politicians who were “distrustful of each-other''. The End of the Party also reveals that Mr Lenihan fought hard against Mr Cowen's addiction to ‘social partnership' and that his attempts to rescue the economy were stymied by what Mr Lenihan increasingly perceived to be “a Taoiseach who was a bit of a softie when it came to tough decisions''.
It also paints a series of poignant portraits of Mr Lenihan as a man alone who even mistrusted his civil servants and reveals that Mr Lenihan's battle with cancer played a critical role in his decision not to engage in a heave against Mr Cowen. Ironically, this too was used against him as Mr Lenihan was “bounced into an assertion of confidence in Cowen'' and then criticised by back-benchers for his reluctance to move against the then Taoiseach. Meanwhile, sources close to the former finance minister have revealed for the first time that he was “devastated” by having just two hours to tell his children he had pancreatic cancer before TV3 made the news public.
In interviews conducted for a Sunday Independent tribute to Mr Lenihan, published today, it has emerged that on St Stephen's Day 2009, he was told the independent broadcaster was running the story only two hours before it went on air. While Mr Lenihan never chastised the broadcast in public, in private he was deeply angered by it. Amid considerable speculation, Mr Lenihan's office had received queries about his health on Christmas Eve.
However, it was only at 3.30pm on December 26, when TV3 said it was definitely running the story on their 5.30pm bulletin, that Mr Lenihan was informed of the news by one of his advisers. He then had to tell his children of his condition.
“He said he only had two hours to tell the kids — he was devastated by that. He never let the outside world know it, but it hurt him very badly,” one source told the Sunday Independent. Mr Lenihan, who had been treated in the Mater Private Hospital for a suspected hernia, had been given his cancer prognosis a few days before Christmas. According to a number of those around Mr Lenihan, he had intended to use the break between Christmas and new year to tell his children and wider family, but was not given the chance.
During his treatment, it has emerged that Mr Lenihan regularly returned to work in his department and the Dail minutes after concluding his chemotherapy, rather than returning home to rest. In some of the most revealing testimony to date about his struggle with cancer, friends and political allies of Mr Lenihan have told how he combated chronic pain and extreme tiredness while tackling the country's financial woes.
TV3 defended its decision to disclose Mr Lenihan's cancer diagnosis. “The report was a legitimate and important news story because it was professionally and properly sourced and because the minister's health is a matter of public interest,” the station said in a statement.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland later rejected complaints against the report.