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Sutherland was 'horrified' when Lenihan told him about illness

Former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland revealed yesterday how Finance Minister Brian Lenihan telephoned him two days before Christmas to break the news of his cancer.

Mr Sutherland, who himself is recovering from throat cancer, and Mr Lenihan had been in regular contact throughout the unfolding financial crisis even after his diagnosis.

Sutherland, who is chairman of Goldman Sachs International, said he was horrified to hear of Mr Lenihan's illness.

On December 23 Mr Lenihan phoned him to break the news of his illness.

He told the finance minister, who had still to tell some members of his family of his diagnosis at that stage, "Do the best you can to maintain your lifestyle."

On one occasion, Mr Sutherland visited Mr Lenihan to tell him what a great job at Finance he thought he was doing.

He also told Mr Lenihan that he had the potential to be one of the great taoisigh of the 21st Century. Mr Lenihan was taken aback, Mr Sutherland said.

Mr Sutherland said, in an interview in the Irish Times, he believes this is "a crucial moment in Irish history" as the country fights to bridge the substantial deficit between high public expenditure and low tax revenues. He pointed out that the country has had only the first of four austere budgets that this very difficult correction will require.

He also said that there was a national understanding of how critical the country's position is, shown in the warm outpouring of support for Mr Lenihan when news of his diagnosis emerged.

"There is a long way to go but I think there is a sort of national understanding that was reflected in the attitude to the appalling news about Brian Lenihan," he says.

"We have limited talent in this country and we have to apply it," he added.

Sunday Independent