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Friday 23 August 2019

Lenihan wanted FF leadership

Late minister stalled at last minute

The late Brian Lenihan, TD
The late Brian Lenihan, TD

Miriam Donohoe

Brian Lenihan baulked at the last moment just as he was on the cusp of challenging Brian Cowen for the leadership of Fianna Fail, it has now been confirmed by his brother Conor.

The revelation is contained in Conor Lenihan's explosive book, 'Haughey: Prince of Power', an excerpt of which is published today in the Sunday Independent.

The last-minute decision by the late finance minister not to challenge for the leadership led to a furious row between the two siblings.

At the time, Brian Cowen was under pressure as leader of Fianna Fail and Conor reveals that his brother Brian wanted to bid for the leadership of the party, even though he was very ill.

"He felt he could become an El Cid for the party [El Cid was the legendary and fearless medieval Spanish leader who, despite having been killed, was put up on a horse to ride into battle]. He was convinced he could have helped minimise the losses the party suffered, even for a short term," Conor Lenihan reveals.

However, in an RTE Radio interview with Sean O'Rourke in January 2011, Brian Lenihan denied he had leadership ambitions and declared support for Cowen. The following week, Cowen won a vote of confidence in his leadership. Micheal Martin, who voted against, resigned as Minister for Foreign Affairs, but became leader when Cowen eventually resigned.

"I was furious with Brian for his interview," Conor Lenihan says. "I let loose and cursed at him vociferously. I told him he had blown it and that he was very foolish. It wasn't just me - a number of backbenchers who were actively supporting him for leadership were deeply disappointed with him. But we didn't fall out for long over it."

Conor Lenihan says the Irish taxpayer got better value from his brother precisely because he was ill.

"He had to cut back on all the unnecessary stuff that senior politicians shouldn't be doing and he concentrated solely on the financial crisis and he went about that in a very determined way.

"He set the foundation for recovery and he was very proud he was clocking in more hours more efficiently because of his illness."

Conor Lenihan also reveals for the first time the role he himself played in the days and weeks leading up to the bank guarantee, working as an intermediary between senior banking executives and Brian.

"They were crazy days, with crisis discussions going on day and night. A number of people in banking and business were giving me messages to pass to Brian. I spent a lot of time with Brian at the time in his office talking about the crisis and giving advice."

He declines to say who he was in contact with at the time, or the messages he was asked to pass on.

"He was in lockdown with officials then. But the guarantee was the only option in my view."

Sunday Independent

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