Cowen paid final visit to Lenihan just days before FF colleague died
Published 18/06/2011 | 05:00
FORMER Taoiseach Brian Cowen paid a final visit to Brian Lenihan in the week before he passed away.
Former cabinet ministers and associates say the pair did always have a strong relationship, despite speculation about a falling-out.
Fianna Fail last night said more than 25,000 people had signed an online Book of Condolence following the death of Mr Lenihan.
In comparison with other colleagues, Mr Cowen appeared muted in his public response to Mr Lenihan's death last week.
But Fianna Fail sources said this just summed up Mr Cowen's communications style.
A number of sources told the Irish Independent that Mr Cowen went to see Mr Lenihan at home in the week before he died. "On a personal level, they were absolutely grand. I know Brian Cowen went to see him in recent weeks. There was no issue there at all," a party source said.
Within government, the relationship between Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan was strained at times, but it was never personal, ministers and officials said.
The biggest rift emerged over a failed deal with public sector unions in December 2009, which would have resulted in more time off in return for pay cuts.
"There were a couple of instances. On the 12 days of Christmas issue, the time off in lieu, there was a fairly strong difference," a former minister said. "Cowen was going for a deal. Brian Lenihan and some Fianna Fail and Green Party ministers were saying no. That was hand-to-hand but there wasn't many instances."
A source close to Mr Cowen said the relationship between the pair did not deteriorate over recent years -- even when Mr Lenihan was being accused of orchestrating a heave against the then Taoiseach.
"Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen had their own ways of doing things. Brian Lenihan was always talking to everybody, whereas that was not Brian Cowen's style. Brian Cowen actually saw Brian Lenihan as his confidante -- but I'm not sure that was reciprocated.
"The whole thing around the heave; that was just Lenihan going around talking to everybody saying what they wanted to hear. Cowen knew that."
In the wake of the leadership doubts over Mr Cowen following the infamous Fianna Fail drinking session in Galway, Mr Lenihan quelled the dissent by appearing on the steps of Government Buildings with the then Taoiseach.
But a source said Mr Lenihan was "bounced" into taking part in the publicity stunt, which was designed to show solidarity. "He was called over for something else. If he did mind, he didn't vocalise it. He was a willing participant."
Also, it emerged Mr Lenihan strongly advised his cabinet colleague Tony Killeen not to contest the last election because of the former defence minister's battle with cancer.
He indicated that as his cancer was terminal he had nothing to lose by fighting for his seat, whereas Mr Killeen's cancer was treatable.
"He was very clear that it would be grossly irresponsible for me to endanger my health prospects and that he was in a different position because his cancer was terminal", said the former Minister for Defence.
Mr Killeen, who retired from the government before the last general election, said he and Mr Lenihan talked a lot over the last 18 months about their respective illnesses.
"I was dealing with illness for a year and a half before Brian," the former TD said. "There was one enormous difference in that I had a substantial prospect of recovery."
Did we ask too much of Brian? See Review