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Friday 19 January 2018

Four heavyweight contenders in line to take up poisoned chalice

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor


Suffered an Icarus-like fall from the heights in recent months as his economic and banking strategy unravelled.

Since 'Black Thursday' and the full €50bn bill for the banking blackhole has emerged, Mr Lenihan's credibility has been enormously damaged.

Despite presiding over the unpopular policies enacted over the past two years, Mr Lenihan's standing with the public rose.

The admiration for his battle against cancer merely added to his allure.

He has a cross-party appeal, which even saw him receiving the adulation of Fine Gael supporters at the Michael Collins oration last summer.

After being overlooked by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he only achieved a full cabinet position in 2007.

Therefore, he is not viewed as being as culpable as other ministers for the policies taken by the Fianna Fail-led government.

Mr Lenihan learned on the job when he was elevated to Finance Minister -- not an ideal situation and he made a series of errors in the opening six months.

He has translated his intellectual capacity into an easily understandable and forthright style in communicating with the public on the crisis.

But his declarations about "patriotic actions", "cheapest banking bailout" and "turning a corner" are all coming back to haunt him.

Question marks also still linger over his health.


Not happy at being left to hang out to dry last week by Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan, where his description of the bailout reports as "fiction" stood out.

Mr Ahern has worked hard over recent years to improve his image -- both within Fianna Fail and outside the party rank and file.

The tag of unpopularity has stuck with him, so he is respected if not loved.

Nonetheless, he does offer voters surefootedness and certainty.

Claims he can't recall ever making a mistake but sitting around the Cabinet for the past 13 years means he is automatically targeted.

Apart from his period as Communications Minister, he can't point to any economic experience.

His schoolyard bully behaviour as he stood by Willie O'Dea earlier this year in the motion of no confidence in the Defence Minister will haunt him.

However, the empathy he showed in his response to the Murphy Commission report a year ago was his finest hour.


Just went through a harrowing period with the death of his daughter Leana. Therefore, a leadership heave is the last thing he'll want.

He is extremely good at reading the public mood -- in complete contrast to Mr Cowen.

And yet there's this constant doubt hanging over him about whether he could be trusted as Taoiseach.

The smoking ban remains his best-known achievement, where he stood up firmly to powerful lobbies within business, the Cabinet and Fianna Fail and displayed ample abilities to hold his nerve.

However, his term as Health Minister also saw him acquire a wishy-washy label as he commissioned a never-ending series of reports, regarded as a way to avoid making decisions.

He was responsible for initiating reform in the health service, primarily through the setting up of the HSE -- but without bringing about the necessary overhaul of staffing.

He also didn't notice problems, such as the nursing home charges scandal in the Department of Health and the FAS excesses when he was in the Department of Enterprise.

Still his record as Foreign Minister has been impressive and he has proven his ability to command his brief.


Appears to be revelling in her role as the 'Minister for Fun', with a never-ending series of positive PR opportunities in tourism, sport and culture.

Pushed through almost €1bn worth of social welfare cuts in last year's Budget and got away with it unscathed.

However, she hasn't held an economic portfolio at Cabinet, so she would face the charge of not having the experience of heading up heavyweight departments.

Her period in the Department of Education saw her handling of schooling for children with special needs being both her crowning glory and greatest area of strife.

Bounced back twice from demotions by Mr Cowen to make something of the roles.

Ultimately she's a woman in a man's party, so she's at a disadvantage.

Unlike some other female TDs, she doesn't try to be 'one of the lads', but has always made efforts to curry favour with the backbenchers.

An able communicator, she is a presentable and compassionate image for Fianna Fail and, like Mr Lenihan, her Dublin base gives her an appeal in the capital. She is frequently accused of being socially conservative -- a legacy of the involvement of her father, Des Hanafin, in anti-abortion and anti-divorce campaigns.

Irish Independent

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