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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 9, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

    Seamus Brennan

    Harry McGee

    Seamus Brennan came up with one of the best summations for Bertie Ahern, when Ahern was Fianna Fail chief whip at a time the party was riven by splits and sulphorous enmities.

    “As chief whip, Bertie Ahern learned to come down the white line and take both sides of the street with him. I don’t know how he got away with it.”

    In many ways, it could serve as an epitaph for Brennan himself. He was universally popular with political friend and foe alike in Leinster House and that innate likeability served him well as a very effective chief whip and capable minister. He radiated calm too – even in the deepest of crises. There was no better politician to go in and fix a problem or appear in the media to becalm a storm.

    But unlike Bertie – who was a man for all seasons – Brennan had a very distinct ideological core. He and Charlie McCreevy were seen as the two senior politicians within the party who were Fianna Fail by nature but PD by instinct. Besides his much-publicised decision from the 1980s to open up the aviation market, Brennnan had big privatisation plans when Minister for Transport for Dublin Bus, the airports, Iarnrod Eireann and Bus Eireann.

    “We need to get a bit of jizz into the market,” was his mantra, delivered in the flat Galway city accent that never deserted him despite living in Dublin for over half his life.

    Jizz was the word I always associated with Brennan. Jizz just pinged off him, if you excuse the slang. His optimism and positive attitude were always present. He was crestfallen when he was moved from transport into Social and Family Affairs. But despite going from a Peedee style free-market department to an old-fashion Fianna Fail ‘socialist’ department, he quickly adapted to the changed circumstances.

    Once he got over his initial disappointment, he couldn’t ignore his own nature and took to what some considered an atypical Brennan portfolio with typical gusto. Journalists loved him because he could always provide an instantaneous announcement or yarn. He used to do a carousel of interviews with politcal journalists at Christmas. Each would come away with at least a dozen stories on initatives and new projects. Problem was that every other journalist had also got the same ‘exclusive’. And more often than not the brilliant idea or scheme did not have the stayability to survive lits appearance under banner headlines in print.




    He was never cynical about it. Media savvy sure. But there was a bit of wish-fulfillment to it as well, even though he knew that only a fraction of it would become real.

    I remember doing an interview with him when I worked in the Connacht Tribune where he said his political dream was to arrive back in Galwayin an open-topped car like John F Kennedy did as Taoiseach. He never achieved that ambition and knew from mid-career that it would not be.

    The Kennedy reference was unsurprising. He was enamoured by US Politics. He travelled there in 1976 for the Presidential campaign and saw at first hand the slick marketing and, yes, jizz of the Jimmy Carter campaign. Then a youthful general secretary of Fianna Fail – and a loyal acolyte of Jack Lynch – Brennan imported many of those tricks to the Fianna Fail campaign in 1977 that saw the party score a landslide victory, unprecedetned before or since. He never lost his interest in the US political system.

    He was a stayer too. He was one of the Gang of 22 who opposed Haughey but still became a minister under him. He might have started off as outside the inner circle but he had an uncanny ability to make himself indispensable. He did the same trick with Albert Reynolds. And with Bertie Ahern. During the autumn reshuffle of 2004, Brennan had to fight a mighty rearguard battle to retain his place in Cabinet. He did not conceal his disappointment at losing Transport then but soon bounced back. In the run-up to last year’s elections, there was a lot of speculation that Brennan would go if FF were returned to power. But because of his past dealings with the Greens (as chief whip) he became part of the negotiating team and was instrumental in brokering the deal for the new coalition. It would have been seen as an act of political churlishness by Ahern if Brennan had been dropped. Even this year, when his health was deteriorating, he still displayed the same ambition and appetitite, though it was becoming more evident that this was a battle that he could not win.

    Brian Cowen mentioned this morning that his colleague had come out to meet and greeet him at the Dundrum centre when he and Eamon Gilmore did a joint canvass during the Lisbon campaign. He was clearly ill but made little of it. I met him that day. He was characteristically upbeat and positive and, as s always asked me, a fellow Galwegian, how things were in Salthill and Glenard and Devon Park. As I write this my email inbox is clogged with tributes to him. A man who was able to go down the white line and take both sides of the street with him. He will be genuinely missed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

    • steve white says:

      should the electorate not be told when a politician has serious illness, he was serious ill when he rejoined the government several weeks ago. and why the dancing round his exact illnesss. more of the being the know stuff by journos and politicos that kept haughy in power for so long.

    • Robert says:

      I debated even dignifying Mr. White’s small-minded gripe with a response but in the best interests of the ‘socially challenged’…Sir, people in general and the terminally ill in particular (if you’ve ever been around them) deserve just a little space, dignity and Privacy. Mr.Brennan had citizen’s rights too you know. I wonder if you or I were so ill would we appreciate the personal and often gory detail of it printed and known in every home throughout the country?

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      God Steve that’s pretty harsh. He was fighting the illness – do you equally think an employee should be fired or have to offer himself up for firing if he becomes seriously ill?

      And why do we need to know more about his illness? It’s pretty obvious and I think the media have been very decent in their sensitivity to his family at this point.

    • Paul H says:

      This is not the time and place Steve, not the time and place.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      While I would agree that this is not the best time for the issue to be discussed there is merit in someone revisiting it in another week or so. After all, we have junior ministers in each of the cabinet departments, it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that they would pick up the slack if someone is seriously ill. The unfortunate fact is that if someone tries to raise this issue in another week or two no one will report because it will not longer be topical, perhaps we could all agree to rain check it for a week?

    • steve white says:

      i just think this was another example of the media political secrecy/old boys network, that means we only find things out in somebodys book 20 years after the fact, public office and serious illness don’t mix. if people knew if his illness last year at election time would they reconsider their vote as for him and his place in cabinet.

      the dancing around his exact illness in dail yesterday was bizarre, harney saying ‘when he had a re… when he had another bout of illness..’

      and theres another member of the wider government seriously ill but sure wink wink nudge nudge. the plebs aren’t smart enough to know are they

    • brendan, belfast says:

      Steve – you may have led a blessed life so far. Maybe no close relatives have lived through serious illness. I am for giving you the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    • Michael coleman says:

      A person like Seamus Brennan comes along every now and then, honest, faithful and hard working—-we need them. G*bs**tes like Steve are a dime a dozen not needed, not wanted

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