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Even a heckler brings a smile to the face of courage

The outspoken gentleman loping up Molesworth Street must have been the only person in the country who hadn't heard about the Finance Minister's medical condition.

"Brian, f**k you and your budget", he growled, walking past a bemused Brian Lenihan towards the passport office, no doubt looking for documentation to allow him to exit this debt-ridden country.

The beaming minister didn't even blink. "Thank you!" he chirped with unmistakable cheer. In fairness, it was probably a welcome distraction. One senses that Mr Lenihan would far prefer to get a roasting about NAMA or savage pay cuts than endure a round of gruelling questions about his health.

But, the condition of the Finance Minister being a matter of public interest, he stepped up to the plate yesterday and gamely chattered long and loud about the cancer diagnosis.

People the length and breadth of the country are currently debating the state of his pancreas, but the minister couldn't have looked more like the picture of health as he bounded up to a waiting media pack.

"Happy new year," he smiled as he eyed the waiting microphones, his famously black mop glinting in the weak winter sun. Earlier, he had wheezed with mirth as he informed RTE's News at One that "this famous dark indestructible hair of mine" wasn't going to be affected by chemotherapy. And, gazing upon the smiling face and the determined gleam in his eye, it seemed the minister himself was feeling somewhat indestructible as he faced down a barrage of questions.

"Cad e an pancreas as Gaeilge?" he giggled as some perplexed journalists attempted to decipher some of his Irish language responses.

Behind the jovial exterior, however, there were occasional glimpses of his true feelings as he prepares to tackle his toughest obstacle yet.

Pressed as to the exact nature of the cancer, he defiantly insisted: "It's a growth, and it's a growth I intend to defeat or it'll defeat me."

And he positively bristled when it was suggested that the nature of his treatment may render him a "part-time minister" for several months.

"I don't see myself as a part-time minister," he countered. "I see myself as a minister who will focus on the essential constitutional functions of the job."

Perhaps it's down to naivety, but he's certainly not envisaging letting a pesky distraction like chemotherapy detract him from the job.

Understandably, he was also unable to hide his annoyance at the manner in which his condition had been revealed by TV3 on St Stephen's Day, after the station had given him 48 hours to disclose his illness to family and friends.

To his credit, he rose above it and managed not to snarl at the hovering TV3 camera, instead choosing a more dignified approach as he admitted: "I'd have liked a slightly longer opportunity to explain matters to my wider family and friends. In relation to the wider picture, certainly I didn't have much time to explain matters to the extended Lenihan clan."

And, he quietly pointed out: "They say it was in the public interest to do so, though I think the public interest would equally have been served by making a statement now. I had always intended to make a statement, but I don't see how it was of public interest to broadcast this information on St Stephen's Day instead of the 4th of January."

He may hold one of the most important offices in the country, but it was with a flash of humility that he submitted to such intense probing about his medical condition.

Describing his feelings after learning of the diagnosis before Christmas, he explained: "It was a shock, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as big a shock as I thought it would be. When you find yourself in hospital, subjected to a battery of tests and doctors are telling you all the options and possibilities, you adjust yourself to it, that's the human condition."

In the last week, it seems the famously private politician has also adjusted to the unwelcome focusing of the media spotlight on his bodily organs. Yet, the public be warned, Brian isn't planning to emulate the Holy Father with daily bulletins.

"I seem to have a very high profile today," he grimaced, referring to the clamour for information, "And I don't want it to be so high profile in the future."

The message was clear. We've all heard plenty about the pancreas and all its attendant problems. But the Minister isn't about to tweet about it to all and sundry. The information has been released, the questions have been answered, and there's still a mountain of work waiting for him at the Department of Finance.

A mountain of work which he says he is more than capable of getting through unless his body or his doctors tell him otherwise.


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