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Friday 24 March 2017

The end of an era in the Dail for a much-loved political family

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

BRIAN Lenihan's brave battle with pancreatic cancer echoed his father's fight with a long-standing liver problem.

Brian Jnr's death is the latest tragedy to beset the family, among the best known and best loved political dynasties in the country. No less than five members were elected as TDs. Three served in cabinet.

The family has had to deal with a number of tragedies and illnesses -- often in the public eye.

Brian Lenihan's father, Brian Snr, fought a brave health battle in the late 1980s.

Stricken by serious ill-health, a liver problem developed into a life-threatening ailment.

The illness overshadowed his term as Foreign Affairs Minister -- but his upbeat mood endeared him greatly to the public.

Mr Lenihan Snr's liver transplant in 1989 at the celebrated Mayo Clinic in the US was catalogued in the book by his wife Ann Lenihan called 'No problem: To Mayo and Back'.

Despite his illness and absence for treatment, he was re-elected to the Dail in 1989.

He was reappointed as Tanaiste and Defence Minister and unsuccessfully contested the Presidential election as Fianna Fail's candidate following a tumultuous campaign.

Brian Snr's health subsequently deteriorated and he died in 1995 aged 64.

Brian Jnr won the resulting by-election for Fianna Fail in Dublin West.

Long after Brian Snr passed away, it was revealed the transplant operation was partly paid for by funds raised by then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey from businessmen who supported Fianna Fail.

The Moriarty Tribunal investigating Mr Haughey's finances provoked a storm of controversy when it emerged some of these funds left over from the operation ended up in the Taoiseach's bank account.

Brian Jnr's brother, Conor, joined him in the Dail in the 1997 General Election.

Conor also had a health scare in recent years when he had a growth removed from his face two years ago.

The lump was spotted by a surgeon during a television interview, who contacted the junior minister to alert him to get it checked out.

It transpired the growth on the left side of his jaw was actually a benign tumour, which could have caused difficulties if it was untreated.

At an early age, the Lenihans suffered a tragedy when Brian Jnr's five-year-old brother, Mark, died of leukaemia in the 1960s when the future finance minister was just six.

Brian Jnr never talked about the death but it came out when he was being interviewed with his aunt, Mary O'Rourke, by RTE's Miriam O'Callaghan 18 months ago. He recalled the Christmas beforehand, where his brother could tell he was quite sick and lamented the lack of advances in medical science at the time, which would have saved the young life.

"Some relatives bought him a Scalextric set, which in the Ireland of 1964 was an extraordinary present.

"This was just something you dreamed people in America had. And he looked at it and he had no interest in it at all.

"It was almost as if he had a premonition that the things of this world were not going to be for him." He began weeping as he recalled the childhood memory.

Shortly after that interview, Brian Jnr was admitted to hospital in December 2009 and diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Discomfort

He admitted himself to Mater Private Hospital in Dublin for three days after losing sleep and experiencing discomfort with the ailment -- believed at the time to be a hernia problem.

After three days of treatment and tests, he was recuperating at his home in Castleknock, Co Dublin.

He went through a series of treatments for the cancer, while continuing to serve as Finance Minister through the economic crisis.

Even when he was in hospital for treatment, he remained in constant contact with officials from the Department of Finance and was known to be still reading documents.

Although his health remained a concern, he did not stand down from office, maintained a heavy schedule and contested the Fianna Fail leadership when Brian Cowen resigned.

When all around, Cabinet colleagues were deciding to retire, Brian Lenihan ran in the 2011 General Election.

He held on to his seat and became the only Fianna Fail TD elected in Dublin. On the day of the count, he shed tears as he thanked his constituents in Dublin West for their faith in him.

Mr Lenihan's passing marks the first time in 50 years there is no Lenihan in the Dail.

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