Monday 26 February 2018

Comeback Kid bucks trend to emerge as Lone Ranger

Scarcely able to believe his luck, Brian Lenihan has fought the odds to hold a seat in a tough battle, writes Eamon Keane

'I'm sorry Eamon, it's been so hard.' Brian Lenihan, the architect of Nama, the bank guarantee and three of the harshest budgets in our history breaks down crying in front of me. He wipes the tears from his eyes.

We are standing in the count centre at Coolmine in west Dublin. The man who still battles cancer, the man who found himself thrust into the perfect economic storm has done it. Secured the final and fourth seat in the predominantly working-class constituency of Dublin West against all the odds. As the constituency swung back to the left, Joan Burton headed the poll, followed by Leo Varadkar and Joe Higgins. But Lenihan is the story.

I ask him about his wife and children. Had he rung them and what did his election result mean to them?

''Oh God, it means an awful lot. I spoke to my wife . . ." Mr Lenihan's voice breaks as the tears come.

"Of course, to break the national trend and hold a seat here . . . just give me a moment . . . this is a huge working-class constituency so it's an incredible achievement to secure a vote. After all the hard decisions we had to make it's a tremendous tribute to secure re-election under those circumstances . . ."

His voice trails off. I ask him does he want to take a moment. Suddenly, we are surrounded by cameras and reporters and his face is fixed strong again.

As he takes in his victory I ask him would Fianna Fail support a minority Fine Gael government.

"Look the public don't want to see us in government. There is an onus on FG and Labour to form a government. If they make the right economic decisions we will support them."

Mr Lenihan has ridden out the worst political storm of his life to retain this seat. His 15.2 per cent share bucked the Fianna Fail single-figure tally in the capital. On a day when his fellow cabinet ministers fell like flies he bucked an overwhelming national trend. How did he do it?

Poll-topper Joan Burton said it was personal. "Brian is held in a great deal of affection. His own vote stayed loyal as people realise how he has battled. I want to wish him and his family the very best."

Standing a few feet away from the Labour deputy leader, a rather grim looking Leo Varadkar ruled out FF support for a Fine Gael Government.

"I don't think that's an option we are considering. It's for the leadership but it's not something I would countenance, provided Labour are not too demanding," he said as a smile eventually broke out .

Joe Higgins was there too. Another fighter of a different persuasion, Mr Higgins talked of a new era with a strong socialist block in the Dail. His 93-year-old mother who made the journey up from Kerry told me she was "delighted, so proud of my son".

But Mr Lenihan's 6,421 first-preference votes are the story. "It is unbelievable that they voted like that for me, it means so much. We have high unemployment in this area. We had to impose harsh cuts to try and do the right thing."

He seems dazed by it all, as if there could ever be good news amidst an ongoing nightmare journey.

In an election when the Lemass-Haughey era came to an end it was significant Mr Lenihan held the seat his father Brian Senior first took in 1977. We spoke about his father and grandfather and you could see what it meant to him to keep the line going. But does he think the Fianna Fail party will survive?

"It's very difficult, the party needs to reflect on its future and plan a way forward," he says.

Financial Times journalists in Cologne may not like Brian Lenihan, but in West Dublin working- class areas like Corduff, voters were more forgiving. Maybe a bit more discerning, realising that perhaps our economic woes weren't entirely his fault. From nationalisation to Nama to no man's land it has been a battle for Mr Lenihan.

Add in cancer that was diagnosed a week before Christmas 2009 and you have to admire his guts if not all of his policies.

Pundits had expected die-hard Fianna Fail voters would hit him hard over our loss of sovereignty.

Scorched indelibly into our minds will be the image of Mr Chopra and Mr Rehn marching into the pages of Irish history. But the people out here in Dublin West saw it differently. Saw their boy home in his hour of need. At 46 minutes past six yesterday evening, Brian Lenihan was declared elected. Arms raised he looked into the eyes of friends and supporters.

An unspoken language of respect and courage flowed, finding a passage through the screams of the crowd. For Mr Lenihan and his family, after three unrelenting, often harrowing years, they could savour this moment. And that much he deserves. The Comeback Kid.

Sunday Independent

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