Thursday 18 January 2018

One year on, Brian's cancer has 'stabilised'

Finance Minister is ready to face ‘very difficult’ election for party

ONE YEAR ON: Brian Lenihan outside Government Buildings last Wednesday
ONE YEAR ON: Brian Lenihan outside Government Buildings last Wednesday


A YEAR to the day from the announcement that he had been diagnosed with cancer, the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, has said that his condition has "stabilised" and he has also confirmed he will contest what he admits will be a "very difficult" General Election for Fianna Fail.

This time last year, the public was shocked at the announcement that Mr Lenihan had been diagnosed with what he later confirmed to be a dangerous form of pancreatic cancer.

A level of disquiet at the insensitive, not to mention untimely, manner of the initial disclosure quickly gave way to a widespread admiration of Mr Lenihan. This led to him being considered among -- although perhaps not still -- the most popular politicians in the country.

The public seemed to be reassured by the determined way in which Mr Lenihan resolved to fight his illness while simultaneously performing his duties as Finance Minister at a most difficult time for the country.

At exactly this time last year, Mr Lenihan, who will be 52 in May, was facing into six months of "very aggressive" treatment for his condition.

On the economic/banking front alone, the past 12 months have been, by any measure, the most difficult that a Finance Minister has had to contend with, possibly since the foundation of the State.

Throughout the year, Mr Lenihan has, on occasion, felt obliged to give an update on his health to a public which can admire him for his bravery, and wish him well in his ongoing battle.

But, equally, as he would want, the public is firmly holding him to account for his performance as Finance Minister -- a judgment which is quite severe at the moment, but which, in time, may turn out to be more favourable.

Most recently, there is huge unease that lawyers for Mr Lenihan have successfully sought to exclude the media from a hearing of a court application to inject further cash into AIB.

On Thursday, the day before Christmas Eve, Mr Lenihan used the extraordinary new powers of a Minister for Finance, just signed into law, to apply to the court to inject a further €3.7bn into the bank, thereby effectively nationalising it without the approval of its shareholders.

Citing "extreme commercial sensitivity", the minister moved to have the application, which related to matters not already aired in public, to be heard in camera, or in a closed and private session of the High Court.

It is yet another unprecedented development in a still deepening banking crisis -- but this time it also raises a question as to whether sections of the legislation, relied upon by Mr Lenihan to exclude the media, may be anti-democratic.

It now seems certain that the sections concerned -- Articles 59 and 60 of the Credit Institution (Stabilisation) Act 2010 -- will be challenged by media outlets in the New Year.

At the time of his confirmation of his cancer diagnosis 12 months ago, Mr Lenihan was optimistic because, as he said, there had been remarkable improvements in cancer care in recent years, and his doctors had felt able to aggressive ly treat him when he was in such good physical shape.

"I really just want to work and live as normally as possible," he said last January. He made a point of inviting to his office the finance spokespeople of Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein to effectively ask, notwithstanding his condition, that no quarter be asked or given," he said.

In an end-of-year interview with the editor of the Sunday Independent, Aengus Fanning, last week, Mr Lenihan used the opportunity to give an update on his health, and to express his gratitude to his medical team as well as to his many well-wishers around the country.

He said: "Yes, well, I repeat my diagnosis -- you've arrived at the anniversary of the news, when I received it, and the very dangerous condition that I have -- but, so far so good.

"The condition has stabilised. I'm really grateful for the good wishes I have received from all over Ireland, and the excellent help, obviously, at the Mater Hospital. Everyone has been so kind and good to me.

"That does not mean that we should not have a proper political debate. I've had a very busy year and, as you say, am working very long hours since the autumn.

"I'm proud to have done the work that I've done, I have to say, because I think we've put the country back on the road to recovery. I'm very encouraged about the statistics on our growth figures for the third quarter of the year.

"We sustained that export growth and we are well on the road to recovery. Of course there were difficulties, of course there will be bumps -- but we can surmount these."

Asked if it was still the case that he intended to contest the election, he said: "Oh, I will. I intend to contest the next General Election. My name is being put forward for a convention, which will take place in January, in my own constituency of Dublin West.

"I certainly intend to put my name before the people. After that, of course, they will have to decide.

"It will be a very difficult election for the Fianna Fail party. I know that the thousands of members that we have all over Ireland are very concerned at the circumstances that the party finds itself in.

"I have been fully focused on the financial survival of the country and my work at the department. The Taoiseach has been very supportive of that work, as chairman of the team in Government, and I will have to continue with that work, but also to engage in a traditional election campaign in the spring."

Mr Lenihan said the Department of Finance growth forecast of 1.7 per cent GDP growth and one per cent GNP was "backed up" by an increasing number of private sector economists.

In relation to the struggling retail sector, he said: "Snow does not help, of course. It creates a huge change in the patterns of shopping. While it does help local neighbourhood shopping areas quite an amount, and I've noticed that in my own constituency, but then on the other hand it does disadvantage the more medium- and long-distance locations.

"But on the other hand, you can see a burst of activity anytime the snow melts and a lot of traffic jams, as pent-up purchasers go out and make their purchases. I think the changes that I introduced in the recent budgets mean that there's no great advantage between the North and the Republic anymore, the tax position has been neutralised."

Sunday Independent

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