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Terry Prone: Keep calm and carry on is his clever motto

No Irish Government Minister has ever been in this situation before, or in any situation remotely similar to it. And nobody other than Brian Lenihan could have managed it so well.

From the first comment he made about his illness to the most recent, the Finance Minister has been calm, courageous and clever in the confusion he has created about aspects of the issue.

If, for example, he had ever stated that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, pure and simple, then a quick Google would have given anybody who wanted it the prognosis and time left for the man. It is that clearly lethal.

But, from the outset, the impression given was that the tumour was in the area of the pancreas, rather than that it had invaded the organ itself.

That was clever, and found ready acceptance, because the public -- not just Fianna Fail -- is rooting for Brian Lenihan.

The second clever thing Lenihan did, from the beginning, was make a public statement about his right to privacy. With steely good humour, he told media that he wouldn't be giving them daily or weekly or monthly bulletins about his condition. But he hasn't hidden, either.


Yesterday, he chose Sean O'Rourke's RTE 1 programme to break his silence. The update was positive, upbeat -- and honest. He talked about his "intensive" rounds of radiation and chemotherapy.

"I completed them at the end of June," he told News at One. "Various tests were conducted in relation to the effect of the treatment. And it has stabilised the cancer for the present. Of course, when you have a cancer you're always at risk, but it has stabilised the cancer for the present."

No miracle cure was claimed. The stabilisation has allowed Lenihan's energy levels to rise and put him, he said, in a position to get on with the important work he has to do; to try to get the Irish economy off its knees. Throughout the interview, his emphasis was on reassuring listeners -- here and overseas -- that Anglo would not bankrupt the nation.


It was a wholly admirable performance. Lenihan has never set out to be a poster boy for the management of cancer. He just wants to do his job.

Testament to how well he's doing it -- even if you don't agree with the course of action he's taken vis-a-vis the banks -- is the fact that a good chunk of yesterday's radio interview was devoted to the rumours that many in Fianna Fail would like to turf out the current leader and elect Lenihan instead.

Lenihan, since his illness became public knowledge, has been the Government's beacon: active, smart and communicating superbly.

"It's there, and it's a danger," he admitted about the cancer. "But it's not an immediate or clear and present danger to me."

That's where Lenihan is single-handedly repositioning cancer as a chronic illness which can at any time turn acute, but which, "stabilised for the present" does not prevent someone getting on with their job.

That's an extraordinary achievement.