Tuesday 16 January 2018

A proud patriot and a first-rate politician

Brian Murphy

I FIRST really got to know Brian Lenihan during the 1996 Dublin West by-election. Brian was a candidate and I was a local constituent. I was associated with Fianna Fail through the Kevin Barry Cumann in UCD and Brian asked me to get involved in his local campaign. I agreed. The campaign was the moment I got the political bug. Brian had a big part to play in that.

He was, at this stage, a successful barrister and lecturer in law at Trinity, but his enthusiasm for public service was infectious. He could have had a much more lucrative career and easier life outside politics, but for Brian that was never an option. Politics was in his DNA.

He knew that politics could be a cruel and unforgiving business. He told me once about how much he learnt about human nature during his father's unsuccessful bid for the Presidency. But this did not deter him from entering politics. Behind the affable exterior, Brian was a man of steel and commitment.

He stood for election because he believed he could best use the talents at his disposal as a public representative on behalf of his community in Dublin West. And that is a job he did with distinction for 15 years.

Brian was an intellectual and extraordinarily well-read.

Because of this, some people worried that he might not take to the more mundane aspects of a TD's life, such as constituency representations.

In fact, Brian revelled in this aspect of the job. He loved meeting people, learning from them, and he got a quiet satisfaction from being of assistance.

In his early days as a TD, I remember him becoming quickly proficient and very enthusiastic in dealing with medical-card eligibility cases, the difficulties being experienced by commuters, and other key local issues, including the establishment of an Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown and even the matter of wandering horses, which in the mid-to-late 1990s was actually a big local issue in parts of Dublin West.

As a new TD, Brian had great back-up and he was always the first to acknowledge the contribution of his constituency organisation in Dublin West and especially his staff. In Maura Cosgrove and Marian Quinlan, Brian had two of the most dedicated constituency secretaries in Irish politics. They were with him from the start and served him with great loyalty and ability.

Brian had charisma and people were drawn to him. He was always encouraging of young people in politics. Not long after I had left UCD, I remember Brian literally foisting me on Mary McAleese's election campaign team in 1997.

Brian had been appointed the election agent for the campaign and I can still recall him insisting to two senior Fianna Fail officials, Martin Mackin and Pat Farrell, that I was an expert on the Presidency. If Martin and Pat were dubious, I have to now confess so was I. I don't think I was expert on anything at that stage!

But Brian was adamant that I was going to work on the campaign and gain some political experience. I will always be grateful for the faith he showed in me.

Brian had an incredible sense of humour.

He was one of the brightest people I ever met, but he never took himself too seriously. He had an ability to laugh at himself and to see some of the absurdities in political life.

Brian was a patriotic Irishman and I know how proud he was when Bertie Ahern first appointed him to the cabinet. I had a brief conversation with him that day in Leinster House. He was delighted with his appointment as Justice Minister and he spoke movingly about the fact that this was the cabinet portfolio his late father had first held.

Brian's immense achievements as a minister are too numerous to recite here. I have no doubt that this first-rate politician will merit an in-depth study by future biographers.

He will be sadly missed.

Brian Murphy is a friend of Brian Lenihan. He is a former speechwriter to Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen

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