Public and Private
Deaglán de Bréadún
We have had two startling insights into the private lives of senior politicians this week. First there were Brian Lenihan’s remarkably candid revelations about his impending battle with cancer of the pancreas. Now this evening we have had a searing statement from the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson about his marriage to Iris.
In both cases, one can only feel enormous sympathy on a personal level. The reported suicide attempt of Iris Robinson is a heartrending story which must arouse the compassion of everyone on all sides of the political divide.
Both Brian Lenihan and Peter Robinson hold jobs of near-epic importance in the current situation, north and south. Lenihan is charged with guiding the Irish economy through one of its greatest-ever crises. Robinson heads up the power-sharing government which is the linchpin of the peace process.
Traditionally, politicians have been asked to perform at their best, regardless of what is going on in the background of their private lives. The stress and strain on Robinson in his television interview was a sight to behold. Lenihan’s bravery in the face of a grave threat to his health and wellbeing has won the admiration of even his sharpest critics.
In Robinson’s case, it does appear that the demands of his job contributed to the difficulties himself and his wife have experienced. In the case of the Minister for Finance, one can only speculate that, if he had not been working 14-hour days, his cancer might have been detected earlier. Who can say?
But perhaps it is time to start looking critically at a political culture that devours office-holders and leaves them little time to look after themselves and/or their families. The work/life balance is more than a cliché, it’s critically important.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going home for the evening.