• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 14, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    Courtesy, Civility and Courage: Brian Lenihan’s hallmarks

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Sadly, I was unable to attend the funeral of Brian Lenihan since I was in Cork,  covering the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.  However, I would not like to let the opportunity pass wihout paying tribute to his courtesy, civility, eloquence and intelligence.

    It is too early to arrive at a definitive judgment on his performance as finance minister. The implications of the  events in which he played a part, and the decisions he was involved in, are still working themselves out.

    But it was always a pleasure to meet and converse with him, which in my case usually took place on the way in or out of the Dail canteen. Like his father, Brian Sr, he was a kindly and considerate soul.

    That’s not to say that he was a pushover in politics or that he would decline to get a good hard (but fair) blow in at a political opponent when he got the chance.

    It was a reflection of the esteem in which he was held that, even at a time when Fianna Fail was in meltdown, the only TD returned for the party in the Dublin region was the same Brian Lenihan.

    It is sad to think that we shall no longer be graced with his urbane presence in the corridors and the Dail chamber. While matters of substance are obviously of greater importance, the role of courtesy and civility in our democratic process should not be underestimated. I have written elsewhere of the benign influence that the courteous presence of Senator George Mitchell exercised upon the parties in the Northern talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement.

    Brian Lenihan refused to be bowled over by his cancer diagnosis. As someone who had to travel that road in the past myself, albeit in a more benign set of circumstances and with a happier trajectory, I pay tribute to his life-affirming approach. The fact that one just might be dead tomorrow is no earthly reason for not making the most of today.

    I shall think of him and others like him when I see the lifesize copy of the Dying Gaul statue in the Leinster House extension. The subject knows he is dying but endures his fatal wounds with dignity and stoicism. To Brian Lenihan’s loved ones, my sincere condolences. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann (We shall not see his likes again.)

    • Peter Barrins says:

      I would do it for 5 – 10 years, work hard, make a difference and then move on. I think career politicians get lazy and lose focus. Unfortunately idealism and principle is not really respected in politics – at least not until you’re lying in a box!!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @41 – sorting out the current spending issue is something we could have done easily were it not for the issue with the banks and the bank guarantee. Whether or not there would have been any political guts to do so is another matter. Lenihan was a full participant in the orgy of cronyism – if not point out ot me where he ever expressed a diverent opinion – even if he was outvoted, where did he ever express an opinion that ran against FF policy. Never once in his entire career did he ever make a stand on any single issue that wasn’t the FF party line.

      The bank guarantee was decided upon by Cowen and Lenihan and presented as a fait acompli to an incorporeal cabinet meeting – no much for Lenihan being on some sort of higher moral plain – he didn’t even have the moral integrity to have the most important decision made by any Irish government since 1932 agreed upon at a proper cabinet meeting – that is enough to politically condemn him.

      You are wrong that Richard Bruton didn’t warn about current spending as each of his budget response speeches shows and you are wrong that there was compensation in the 2002 FG manifestofor taxi drivers or Eircom shareholders. It was certainly something discussed out loud by FG but it was not official FG policy.

      Those of us who have to live with the consequences of Brian Lenihan decisions have a right to pass judgement on his politics and for all the comment on his Latin and classical interests and his Jesuit education – I’m afraid I don’t find any of the innate decent and honesty you find in people from othe because those people in other parties were never bystanders who did nothing to stop the scale of cronyism unleashed by FF. Perhaps FG will face the same quandry in future and will be found wanting but we can judge it when that time comes.

      Plenty of people from all parties and none were shouting from the rooftops about the madness that was going on and plenty in the media refused to do their job impartially and instead ate what was fed to them by the government as it was easier than doing their job properly and impartially and of course it kept the media revenues up as long as the orgy of house buying went on.

    • Desmond: Everyone reading your comments knows that you are misrepresenting recent history. This idea of FG going around with sandwich boards chnating “The end is nigh” simply does not withstand scrutiny. Richard B. may have been vociferous but his was not the main Opposition message in Election 2007. Anyone remember Stamp Duty? Income tax rates? That’s the whole reason Morgan Kelly stood out from the crowd.

    • RPE McCarthy says:


      Unless I am mistaken you live in London. If so, you do not have to live with the consequences of Mr. Lenihan’s bailout gamble.

      I agree that Richard opposed economic policy every year on budget day but he still produced ridiculous economic manifestos in 2002 and 2007. How is that possibly consistent or responsible or showing any capacity for independent thinking?

      Riddle me that, Joker.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I think you’re being disingenuous to put it mildly Deaglán.

      Did I ever say that FG had all the answers back then? No, I didn’t. The point, as I suspect you know well, is that FG made policy decisions based on information provided to it by the Dept of Finance and we now know the Dept hadn’t the faintest idea what it was doing so now that’s Richard Bruton’s fault?

      When you re-read Richard’s budget speeches going back to 2002, he was shouting from the rooftop that spending was out of control and was based on unsustainable taxes – what else was he meant to do exactly when no one else wanted to know. Maybe you can locate some IT articles pointing out that Richard was correct – no, I didn’t think so.

      Brian Lenihan tried the same guff in some interview I think when he was on Miriam Meets where he tried to say he expected FF to lose in 2007 and it wasn’t FF’s fault that the opposition didn’t try hard enough to win! The depth of denial involved in Lenihan of all people making a statement like that almost beggars belief.

      There’s a very valid argument to be made for a proper Leader of the Opposition office the way they have here in the UK, so that oppopsition parties have full access to whatever data they need without needing the approval of the then current government as is the case now.

      But of course even if Richard had seen the actual ‘books’ and went around with the board you suggest, no one would have wanted to know. The fact of the matter is, those who did have access to proper information chose to do nothing about it and that is not Richard Bruton or Fine Gael’s fault – it is the fault of Fianna Fáil and all the various Ministers who sat around a table never asking the questions they should have – the most culpable of whom are Cowen and Lenihan.

      It’s no different to how the new government can’t now be claiming they ‘didn’t know’ about bonuses or pensions etc given they now have access to the information and should be asking those questions.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      The Jesuits? Might explain a lot. Pascal’s problem with them included their propensity for letting the rich off the hook and screwing the poor with penances. Also their ability to legitimise anything, murder, robbery, you name it, on a case-by-case basis. All about intent apparently. Never mind the consequences if the intention to do evil wasn’t there sure ’twasn’t a sin at all.

    • @56: Bit of a cliché on the Jesuits, no?
      @55: Am right in thinking you used to work for Richard at one time?

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      But maybe you’re right. And to brand the Jesuits alone would be an injustice. They weren’t the first to come up with privatio boni. Long time before them Lao Tzu observed weren’t nothin good nor evil but saying made it so. And Tatian and Basil the Great and Dionysius the Areophagite and Theophilus of Antioch weren’t Jesuits. And nor was Augustine. But they all in effect, just like the Jesuits, nullifed the reality of Evil qua Evil. Calling It merely the privation of good, for if all things come from God how can anything be evil? It’s just a question of PeRspeCtive. But then one thinks of the Equivocator who could argue both sides of the scale but could not equivocate his way into heaven. I find it ironic that the Church Who so decries ”moral relativism” should have pioneered it Herself is all.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      If one has light, one must have dark. If one has high, one must have low. If one has good, one must have evil. It is, as Jung said, the sine qua non of all human cognition.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      @55 – so what you are saying Des is that society as a whole was responsible for the economic crash. Obviously poor little Richard Bruton was a lost voice in the crowd and I certainly do not recall him as a forceful voice against the spending – particularly around 2007. I don’t hear too much from him these days either. I am very far from convinced that if FG had been in office from 2002 the current situation would be hugely different. There were embedded cultural issues in Ireland regarding governance and regulation and I do not recall any politician – or indeed anyone else – highlighting this issue or calling for reforms. In fact the ‘light touch’ system was much applauded by all and sundry. In the same vein Irish people greedily and stupidly borrowed, spent, borrowed some more and spent some more knowing, at some level, that their capacity to repay was questionable. If FG or any political party had put a stop to this spending splurge in the mid-noughties, they’d have got a good kicking from the electorate. The appetite of the Irish electorate for the party to continue was clearly evidenced in the 2007 election.

      To focus on the current economic issues in terms of a single political parties or individual politicians is utterly stupid and naive. There were a myriad factors involved, from the macro to the micro, and it is simplistic to think that an explanation can be formulated in terms of a political party or politician.

      Re the Jesuits – many of us were educated by religious orders yet we managed to avoid being scarred for life by their ethos!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ 54: I wish – I have elderly parents, older siblings and younger nieces and nephews and I dread to think how other less well off families are coping given how much we are having to help each other out – we are very grateful to be in a position to be able to help. Not everyone is so lucky so actually yes, I am affected by the decisions of Brian Lenihan. I have as much right to care about Ireland as anyone living there because those who have stayed haven’t covered themselves in glory and maybe those of us who have lived away can one day use our experience to bring back new ways of doing things.

      They are ridiculous with hindsight but the point is FG policies (and those of other parties not in government) were based on information given to them by the Dept of Finance, which we now know was hopelessly wrong.

      @ 57: I was FG DNC Const Sec for a while before/during and after the happy (not!) union with Dr Lee. I wish I had done something more productive with that part of my life to be honest. Don’t worry there was no great falling out – I went to live in SA, came back, went back, came back and then came to London. He’ll have forgotten who I am by this stage I’m sure.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      “To focus on the current economic issues in terms of a single political parties or individual politicians is utterly stupid and naive” – I disagree. Some of us (self included, living far away in China for 6 years) saw clearly what FF was about and the howling moral vacuum it, and it alone, best represented in Irish politics, society, culture and psyche. If they could nod and wink at illegal war and torture and Ireland being made a willing party to both then they could nod and wink at anything. As indeed they did. Some of us were trying to warn ye about that, right on this site, since around March 2003. I very much think you can place the blame fairly and squarely on Fianna Fail as the active agent in this, however on other parties also for their passivity and indeed support for the crimes of FF. But I think also you can place the blame on the majority of Irish voters who constantly elected these people back into power over those years. Because they best represented what the Irish had become. And always have.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @60: Peter, what you say is a clever trick used by people to avoid responsibility. The fact of the matter is that deliberate policy choices were made by the Ahern/Cowen governments – the policies did not develop by accident or out of thin air. Those who were so actively involved in pursuing them are to blame – not the people who had no involvement in voting in favour of such policies or of selling them to the public.

      I agree with your point that the Irish public didn’t want to know that the party would end in tears. That’s an issue for the Irish people to debate amongst ourselves. It’s a huge area that we as a people need to understand – why we allowed such cronyism, why we allowed such child abuse, why we allowed the magdalene laundries, why we allow the religioous evade being held to account, why we allow abuse of the elderly, why we never ever hold people to account and why we don’t want to – I suspect these are issues better suited to a sociologist than a politician.

      There were plenty of people at all levels warning that Ireland was about to come a cropper. They were in public life and they were regular people who had experience of life when Ireland was really poor and they could see perfectly well that the more you borrow the more you have to repay and sooner or later something has to give when incomes have been stagnant since the 70s in terms of real purchasing power – you don’t need to be an economist to understand that.

      Fine Gael and Labour have no responsibility for the mess Ireland is in now. It is highly unlikely a FG/L government would have pursused the same policies as the FF/PD/G/Ind ones did. By all means FG/L would have made mistakes because the decision making process in FF is totally different to that in FG/L – of course there would have been mistakes, huge ones, but no where near the scale that occured and it is more likely the property bubble would never have reached such insane levels so there’d have been no burst bubble and all that flowed from that and no need for a bank guarantee and all that flowed from that. We’d have had the same sort of recession as Austria or the Netherlands or Denmark maybe.

      Will FF/SF/others be to blame for the mistakes the new government makes? No of course not. So why would FG/L be to blame for the mistakes made by FF etc since 1997.

    • Desmond: My clear recollection of the 2007 general election is that the Opposition parties wanted the FF-led government to be even more, not less, freehanded than they were. Anyone who can contradict that with facts, as distinct from party prejudice, is welcome to do so.
      As for the Lenihans, I seem to recall an occasion where you sent me some comments on another (living) member of that family which contained certain claims about the person in question. My recollection is that I was quite prepared to publish your claims but when, for the normal professional reasons, I requested backup evidence, you did not provide it, am I right? Have you a problem with the Lenihan clan? In this country there is always a story behind the story. Maybe it goes back to the days of Brian Lenihan Sr? Did he have a disagreement with a relative of yours perhaps? I’m fishing here.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Deaglán, as you know quite well the policies of FG were fully costed based on information given to them by the Dept of Finance. Yet you blame FG for not knowing those figures were wrong? Or for not shouting loud enough.

      As for the Lenihans, they just happen to come to my attention as they have probably caused more damage to Ireland than any other ‘dynasty’ because uniquely they have had the power at various points to remove Haughey, Ahern and Cowen but each time they put the interests of the country last.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      ps what really depressed me today is to see how much a certain semi-state executive pays himself and to think I spent years at YFG meeting with him and he earns about 4 times what I do – not allowing for his pension and bonuses, then again he has put on a lot of weight and I haven’t so I’ll hav eto take comfort in that oh and the fact I don’t have any wrinkles yet – medical marvel I am!

      In my minds eye I can picture all these people Minister Hayes, Varadker, Creighton, and others – I was even at Q&A the evening the infamous ‘did you phone the Aras’ question was asked – where did it all go wrong!

    • Peter Barrins says:

      @63 “Fine Gael and Labour have no responsibility for the mess Ireland is in now” – had FF placed them under house arrest or something? They are as much to blame as anyone else. They may not have been playing with the policy levers but they were there (in body anyway) in the Dail and doing very little to highlight the real problems.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      Is there anything straight and honest about this country? The dirt the filth the corruption stinks to high heaven.

    • John O'Driscoll says:

      And if you have a problem with my last comment just there, reflect for a moment on the unnumbered and largely unnamed families, lives, marriages, children, blighted by suicide, bankruptcy, depression, distress, fear, hunger, as a result of what’s been done to this State and Society by venal, low, dishonest, people who’ve skewed the system tilted the playing field hawked justice like cabbage in the markets and brought us unto this pass. No eulogies in the Irish Times for them.

Search Politics