Saturday 16 December 2017

Marc Coleman: He was dying of cancer but trying to save the country

Brian Lenihan was a true warrior whose only flaw was a blind loyalty to his party, writes Marc Coleman

Brian Lenihan. Declan Costello. Garret FitzGerald. Once, there were giants in our small nation. But they are passing from us. Yes, Brian Lenihan made mistakes. But they were, as often as not, forced upon him by the weakness of lesser men and women. As the past recedes, this will become easier to see and Lenihan's stature will grow. And as yet more pre-election promises are broken, the stature of those who attacked him will shrink.

My last personal meeting with Brian Lenihan was an accidental one: on a cold night last December just after the budget both of us found ourselves in Burger King on Dublin's lower Baggot Street, he on his way home from work, I on my way into studio to present my regular show on Newstalk. I sensed a tired man after a hard day's work and refrained from doing what most journalists try to: engage a minister in conversation.

I confined myself to a friendly nod. But Lenihan insisted that I sit down and talk to him. So over burger and chips, we talked. About the budget just gone. About the December 2009 budget. About the bailout and where it all went wrong. He candidly told me that since the spring of 2010, vested interests had taken back control of government policy. It had all looked so different a year before. Back then Fianna Fail backbenchers had been pressured by vested interests to deflect Lenihan from tackling public pay with cuts, by opting for the ludicrous farce dubbed the 'Twelve days of SIPTU' plan.

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