Monday 18 November 2019

Lenihan should just get over himself and his bruised ego

The former Finance Minister is not doing himself any favours by lashing out at others, writes Celia Larkin

"Anyone can become angry, that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way -- that is not within everyone's power and that is not easy." -- Aristotle

POOR old Brian Lenihan. He just can't get over it. Beaten into third place in the Fianna Fail leadership battle having been, as he thought, the darling of the party. Oh, what a battering his ego must have taken on that fateful day in January when Micheal Martin became leader.

But since Brian Lenihan has always had a public persona as an equable, pleasant, philosophical man who puts the party first and doesn't take things personally, it could have been assumed that he was over the leadership defeat. Not so, it seems. It would appear that not getting to the top of a much reduced Fianna Fail party continues to rankle with him. Why else is he lashing out at Brian Cowen and still trying to justify his actions on the leadership issue in the dying days of the last Government?

Reading Brian Lenihan's interview in the Community Voice makes me think Fianna Fail had a lucky escape. Either the man genuinely does not understand the reason for his drop in personal popularity. Or he has chosen to reject the obvious evidence.

There is always a point when the tide turns. That pivotal point for Lenihan was when he went on air expressing satisfaction with Cowen's leadership ahead of the confidence motion tabled by Cowen for the parliamentary party meeting in mid-January.

Not only were the backbenchers shocked; the public was shocked. It was common knowledge that he was less than happy with Cowen's leadership -- a fact he confirmed again in his recent interview when he said: "From a personal point of view, I had a good working relationship with Brian Cowen around the cabinet table but I was disappointed. I felt that when he was elected Taoiseach he would give a stronger lead and express himself in a more forthright way about the problems facing the country. I felt that I had to give a lot of that lead and give those forthright expressions myself along with everything else."

Micheal Martin's move to challenge Cowen upstaged Lenihan, and having lost the initiative to the Cork man, he chose to stay with Cowen until he could regain that advantage. Here was a man poised to take over as leader of the party, considered to be competent and confident with the support of the party and the public at his back, and he blew it. The stance he took supporting Cowen backfired badly. The backbenchers and the public saw it for what it was; a move for self-preservation dressed up in the pretext of concern for the greater good. Irish people hate a sneak.

Whether Lenihan meant to be duplicitous or not is irrelevant; his actions were perceived to indicate deep duplicity. He would have been better served to keep his mouth shut about his voting intentions, but as he says himself " . . . hindsight is tremendous in politics".

It seems he still hasn't learned that valuable lesson of keeping his mouth shut. Kicking Cowen now can serve no useful purpose. But the thinking behind the recent interview is even more questionable, because, not only did he kick Cowen in that interview, he took a sideswipe at the new party leader, effectively blaming him for the collapse of the Government.

"Indeed when Micheal Martin did challenge Brian Cowen, the Government did collapse very quickly and I had to pilot through the Finance Bill under very difficult circumstances," he told the newspaper.

Circumstances were indeed difficult during the passage of the Finance Bill but Lenihan hardly managed it all singlehandedly, as he would like us to believe. And unlike himself, the majority of his colleagues in government paid the ultimate price with the loss of their seat because of the shenanigans that went on.

As one woman remarked last week: "He'd want to get over himself." One would think he had nothing to do with the events surrounding the bank bailout and the intervention of the EU/IMF. Despite his protestation of "forthright expressions", I don't recall him being very communicative during the EU/IMF negotiations. He was Minister for Finance, he blatantly told us there would be no bailout, and he allowed some of his fellow cabinet members to make fools of themselves endorsing that line.

It was magnanimous of Micheal Martin to appoint Brian Lenihan as deputy leader. I hope he doesn't come to regret it. Lenihan's public airing of past disagreements has angered former ministers and current members of the parliamentary party. The last thing the party needs is to be embarrassed and demeaned by one of its members raking over past contretemps.

Mr Lenihan would be well advised to take responsibility for his own actions, learn from his own mistakes and move on. We've seen too much finger-pointing. The elections are over. The die is cast. If the party is to have any chance of rebuilding itself, then it can do without the old-style politics of fractions and factions.

In politics, you either win or you lose. Martin won the leadership contest. Lenihan lost it. Those are the facts. It doesn't matter if he came second or third, there is still only one winner. All he has achieved by airing his grievances is to expose the size of his ego and the level to which it has been damaged. He has grievously and gratuitously diminished the public view of himself.

He would do well to take heed of Colin Powell, former United States Secretary of State, when he said: "Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it."

Sunday Independent

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