| 8.8°C Dublin

Hard politics not soft panegyric

IT seems extraordinary now that a few short months ago, Brian Lenihan contested the leadership of his party and hoped he would lead our country. Before ever he died, he was our lost leader.

Of course he had his critics. He was a politician and we in this country have reason to view that species with a jaundiced eye. But Brian Lenihan stood head and shoulders above most. Nothing underlines that as much as the present Dail.

We currently have a Government which already, in less than 100 days, has reneged on almost every electoral promise it made.

It does so without fear of consequence because it chose operating with an obscene majority over the tightrope of a challenging Opposition.

They chose the cosiness of guaranteed office over the potential -- however remote -- of making real change. It is the exact opposite of what Lenihan did.

Perhaps he had his patriotism thrust upon him. So sharp and elegant an intellect must have been deeply discomfited by the deception practised on him by the banks, which led to the guarantee.

Perhaps it was that big mistake which lit the fire under him. Whatever it was, he is the only minister in recent history to have done unpopular -- even unthinkable -- things. He tackled public sector pay. He stood up to the unions. He tried his damnedest to create the circumstances for a recovery, Clearly, hope and optimism were his watchwords, in life and in politics. We can forgive him for saying we had turned a corner.

The beginning, middle and end of all courage is personal courage. And you take your courage where you find it.

Over the next few days, politicians of all parties will eulogise and pay homage to Brian Lenihan. And there is a generosity in that.

But it would be better if we had less soft panegyrics and more hard politics. If Brian Lenihan's courage is an inspiration to ordinary people, it should be doubly so for our politicians.

There was an urgency and clarity about his actions. If death was his director, so it should be for all of us.

We do not know the discomforts of his last few months. And he made sure we did not know. We saw him in his long beige gabardine coat in the freezing cold in Brussels as he resisted first and then bowed to the inevitability of the bailout bullies. His face was pale and his eyes shadowed. But we who think we have no limit to the number of our sunrises showed him little mercy.

As he eyeballed death all these months, he put his country first.

Remember he need not have done that.

Some say it was a pity he did not take the time to smell the roses and walk in the mountains. But he defined his duty and chose his path. He stayed at his post until it was snatched from him.

Over 100 years ago Emily Dickenson wrote the lines that could have defined Brian Lenihan: "Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me."

Sunday Independent