Tuesday 12 December 2017

Stress of saving banks caused Brian Lenihan's cancer, says Mary O'Rourke

The enormous stress of the night of the bank guarantee may have caused Brian Lenihan's pancreatic cancer, his aunt Mary O'Rourke believes.
The enormous stress of the night of the bank guarantee may have caused Brian Lenihan's pancreatic cancer, his aunt Mary O'Rourke believes.

John Spain Books Editor

THE enormous stress of the night of the bank guarantee may have caused Brian Lenihan's pancreatic cancer, his aunt Mary O'Rourke believes.

She says that Brian, then Minister for Finance, was under tremendous pressure when the bank executives came into Government Buildings on the historic night in September 2008 to beg for help to stop them going bust. It ended with them getting a state guarantee.

"On a human level I believe that that night of huge burdens on Brian and all the many stresses of the time which followed took a massive toll on his health, and may even have sown the seeds of his pancreatic cancer," Mrs O'Rourke writes in her new book.

"I do not think I am being fanciful when I say this because there is a clear link between physical illness and emotional stress. . . the burden placed on him that night was enormous and in some important senses he was alone in taking the decisions he had to take."

She says Brian had a "wonderful adviser" in economist Alan Ahearne and a "worthy comrade" in Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

"But the enormous scale and and the import of the choices he was confronted with, along with the very poor, patchy and inconsistent advice from the Department of Finance advisers -- all of this added up to a huge cauldron of worry and concern for Brian," she writes

"In the end, a decision had to be taken by him on whom the crown had been laid, which now had become a crown of thorns."

The autobiography, 'Just Mary -- A Memoir', is published by Gill & Macmillan and was launched last night with former President Mary McAleese.

It also says that the roots of the financial crisis go back to the flawed budgetary policy in the early years of the boom. She blames Charlie McCreevy and Mary Harney for this, which was a result of their obsession with low taxes and stoking up the economy.

"Despite never joining the PDs, Charlie McCreevy remained a neo-liberal at heart. During the time they worked in Cabinet together, he and Mary Harney were essentially the nexus of much that happened there.

"It was in essence they who decided budgetary policy. . . they would only allow the Taoiseach in at the end of such deliberations," she writes.

"The parameters and small print of the Budget were often worked out between Charlie McCreevy and Mary Harney. . . Bertie Ahern was sometimes peripheral."

O'Rourke goes on to say that the economic policies that were followed at the time "would ultimately work to compound the problems associated with the construction boom".

She says the neo-liberal philosophy shared by McCreevy and Harney meant a hands-off approach to the economy. "Regulation of the banks -- or the lack of it -- is where so many of our difficulties lay," she writes.

The consensus at the Cabinet table was that "the lighter the touch a government could have in terms of financial regulation, the better".

O'Rourke says that the troubles in the Irish banks arose because everyone wanted to copy Anglo Irish Bank, which was giving out "stupendous business loans and 100pc mortgages to anyone who asked".

She says that the head of Anglo, Sean FitzPatrick, was "like a god whose toga people wanted to touch and clutch on to".

But she says he was a "false god" -- and when someone tried to introduce them at a function during the boom, she refused to meet him.

O'Rourke is also critical of the Croke Park Agreement, which, she says, has its roots in the benchmarking system that became a "ridiculous giant beyond our control".

"Initially, you had to show that you had increased your productivity. But of course that was soon forgotten."

She says this system "very quickly got out of hand and many of the work targets set for each sector of workers were just never achieved. . . the public sector grew out of control".

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News