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Terry Prone: Our pride as undaunted Lenihan shows he will keep calm and carry on

At the end of the interview, we don't know what Brian Lenihan felt. What we do know is that the nation felt much better for listening to it. Sean O'Rourke -- perhaps because he had won the exclusive interview -- proved that he wasn't going to do the Minister any favours.

He asked all the argumentative questions so that Lenihan even got down to addressing the likelihood of losing his improbably black hair.

Even though the topic was life and death, even though the man on the other side of the microphone was dealing with the unknown, the personal, the frightening, the emotional, Brian Lenihan obeyed one of the crucial rules in communication. He answered the data part of the question, not the emotional part of the question.

O'Rourke, accordingly, got back from the Minister for Finance what interviewers invariably get back from him: civil commonsense, a can-cope attitude and the evidence of good preparation.

"You found yourself nodding as you listened," one opposition politician said, after the interview was over. "He sounded so sensible in the way he was approaching it."

Logic

Sensible. That's the word. Not hysterical. Not filled with bravado. Just sensible. The sense of the upbeat conveyed by the interview resulted from Lenihan's understated logic: his doctors saw nothing in the next weeks and months that would prevent him doing the important job he was doing, so he was going to keep doing it.

If things changed, he would think again. But he wasn't going to be a part-time Minister. He was going to cut down on the speechifying and the "gallivanting" that takes up a considerable chunk of any Minister's time. How could we not agree with that?

Nobody will ever admit it, but the fact is that TV3 had done Lenihan one big favour. Because the nation knew, courtesy of that station, from St Stephen's Day, that the man has cancer and that it's a serious issue, by the time he came to talk to O'Rourke, the interview was all about managing the consequences, rather than dealing with the bad news itself.

The shock/horror bit was already complete, and Lenihan was able to do what he does best: be reasonable, present the evidence in an unsmarmy pleasant way, and lay down the rules for the future.

Because, let's be in no doubt about it, in the middle of all of that probing by RTE Radio's energetic honest broker, Lenihan, without breaking stride, was able to establish the groundrules for media for the next few months. It's very simple. He's a Minister, accountable to the Dail and to the media for what he does AS a Minister. He's not a sick Pontiff issuing daily or weekly or monthly bulletins about his cell count or his pain level.

He was effectively telling all media that his symptoms and sufferings were his damn business and until they impinged in some serious way on his performance of his duties, the journalists needn't bother asking him how he was feeling on any given day or commenting on whether he had gained or lost weight. Minister first, patient second, was the straight message.

What made that clear message so acceptable was that it was stated without plea or plaint, without recourse to sympathy or empathy.

This was a clever, resolute man stating his requirements in order to do a good job for the people who elected him.

Sober

Most of those who heard the interview talked afterwards about its bravery and him lifting the heart of the nation and being constantly upbeat.

In fact, there was no unrealistic hooray Harry stuff in it at all. He said, with sober realism, that he would beat this thing or it would beat him. That's the truth of it.

Yet, at the end of it, we, the listeners, felt uplifted. Because for about 20 minutes, a politician had exemplified the best of us and we were proud of him. Uncomplicatedly proud of him.

It's a good feeling.


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