Lenihan to address the nation on his illness
Minister to talk of cancer and plans for struggling economy
FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan is set to address the nation about his impending cancer battle in a television interview today.
He will give viewers further details of his diagnosis as well as an undertaking that he will continue to tackle the economic crisis. It will be his first public appearance since news of his health worries broke on St Stephen's Day.
He is expected to make the brief appearance on RTE rather than TV3, which has been criticised for announcing over the holiday period that Mr Lenihan was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Mr Lenihan (50) is expected to touch on several subjects, providing reassurance he will be able to continue in his job as well as outlining his plans for reviving the economy.
His statement will also seek to further clarify reports that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which according to a government source were "not entirely accurate".
It is understood Mr Lenihan will elaborate further on his condition in his public statement, but that he still faces more hospital tests. He is also to undergo a course of treatment in the coming months.
The minister has won praise from investors for halting a steep budget deficit rise, although cutbacks in December's Budget stung public sector workers and social welfare recipients. He will be seeking to make an early statement to reassure the markets, as well as the public, that he is keen to continue his work.
Mr Lenihan has received a large number of phone calls, letters and emails from members of the public wishing him well in his battle with illness.
"It has been a source of great solace to him and his family," a source said.
The minister is looking forward to a "full and vigorous" year ahead, and his department is already working on next December's Budget.
"Fortunately in the Department of Finance the first half of the year is quieter than the second and so that will give me a chance to undergo a course of treatment in anticipation of a full recovery," he said over the weekend.
A Department of Finance spokesman said that Mr Lenihan's full statement had not yet been drafted but it was expected to be issued today, or by tomorrow at the latest.
The minister is expected to release the written statement in conjunction with at least one broadcast interview. The Department of Finance kick starts a busy new year by releasing the final tranche of tax figures for 2009, with December's Exchequer Returns due to be published.
Mr Lenihan will not be attending the publication of the latest Exchequer Returns, because it is standard practice for the announcement to be made by Department of Finance officials.
The returns will show that the State's overall tax take last year was €32.5bn, a 20pc drop on the 2008 figure and a 30pc drop on the 2007 figure. But Mr Lenihan had said there was some "slight improvement" in the tax returns for last month.
Over the weekend, Mr Lenihan received further public backing from fellow ministers and Fianna Fail backbenchers.
Wexford TD Sean Connick said: "He's been the outstanding performer in the Dail over the last 18 months and I think he's rescued the country by virtue of his command of his portfolio."
Mr Connick said he hoped that other ministers and backbenchers would be able to help take on some of Mr Lenihan's work and duties if necessary, which will include tackling the public finances and the crisis in banking.
"Whatever assistance or help the man needs, it will be forthcoming. There is no shortage of support for Brian Lenihan," Mr Connick said. Mr Lenihan was admitted to hospital on December 16 complaining of discomfort that was initially linked to a suspected hernia problem, for which he was due to go into the Mater Hospital for treatment a few days later.
He missed the vote in the Dail to cut the pay of public servants, one of the most controversial measures in his December Budget. But he was back the following week to announce the board of the newly established National Asset Management Agency.
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