Lenihan to continue in portfolio despite illness

Mon, Jan 4, 2010, 00:00

Brian Lenihan confirmed today he will continue to serve as Minister for Finance during his treatment for cancer.

The Minister's health has been the subject of intense speculation since his cancer diagnosis was reported on St Stephen's Day.

In a personal statement this morning detailing the precise nature of his illness, Mr Lenihan said he underwent tests prior to Christmas which identified a blockage at the entrance to his pancreas. He said cancerous tissue was identified in the material that had caused the blockage, and he intends to begin treatment for cancer later this week.

Having discussed the matter with his doctors and the Taoiseach, Mr Lenihan said he will continue on in the finance portfolio and "to fulfil the essential functions of my office".

“I am well aware of the importance of the office I hold. My doctors have advised that I am fit to continue to fulfil my duties. If that position were to change in the course of my treatment, I would be the first to recognise it,” he said in his statement.

Mr Lenihan said he is "feeling fit and well" but would not be accepting invitations for speaking engagements in the next few months.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Lenihan said a blockage had been found at the entrance to his pancreas but doctors had managed to insert a stent to allow his pancreas function normally again.

“The cancerous material is there, and it requires to be contained, and if possible eliminated and that’s the challenge facing my medical advisers and myself, and I’ll face that challenge and I’m confident I can surmount that challenge," he said.

In a wide-ranging interview on his condition, an upbeat Mr Lenihan said he believed “mental disposition” was important with these conditions. He said tests revealed he had no secondary infections, and that the rest of his body was in good shape.

“Clearly a body in good shape like that is in a position to put up a formidable resistance and that’s what I’m going to do," he said.

Asked if his condition could be described as pancreatic cancer, Mr Lenihan said his doctors had simply informed him that there is cancerous tissue at the entrance to his pancreas and “he was not going to go to a medical textbook to elaborate beyond that”.

He added: “It’s clear enough. It’s a growth and it’s a growth I intend to defeat or it will defeat me."

Mr Lenihan rejected suggestions he would have to be a "part-time minister" while he received treatment for his condition. “I don’t see myself as a part-time minister. I see myself as a minister that will focus on the essential constitutional functions of the job.

Asked if he was forced to change his plans about informing his wider family and friends after details of his health were reported by TV3 on St Stephen’s Day, Mr Lenihan said he did not think the public interest had been served by the decision of the broadcaster to run with the story.

"The medical condition of the minister of finance is of public interest. I don’t have an issue about that. I don’t see why it was of public interest to broadcast this information on St Stephen’s Day as distinct from, say, January 4th," he said. "I would have liked a slightly longer opportunity to explain matters to my wider family and friends."

He said he had been overwhelmed by the degree of public goodwill that has been expressed following reports of his diagnosis, and he “very much appreciated” this.

The publication tomorrow of the exchequer returns for 2009 will illustrate the scale of the problem the Minister will continue to face in relation to the public finances. The figures will show that the tax take for the year plummeted to €32.5 billion, the same level as in 2003, while Government spending was in the order of €56 billion.

The only positive aspect of the figures is that the fall in tax revenues appears to have bottomed out in the final months of 2009 and may even be slightly ahead of the estimates in last year’s budget.

Apart from the public finances, the other major issue facing Mr Lenihan is the future of the Irish banks as the impact of the Nama valuations become clear.

It now appears as if the writedown in the value of the loans to developers will be significantly greater than expected and will put the banks under pressure to raise more capital which will have a knock-on impact on the exchequer.

His aunt, Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke, said earlier today the Minister would continue in the position. “He told me he had a long talk with the Taoiseach. They, the two of them, decided he would stay on and do his, as he referred to it himself quaintly, his constitutional duty,” she told Midlands Radio. She also revealed her nephew would begin medical treatment for his illness on Thursday.

Meanwhile, cancer specialist Prof John Crown defended his decision to appear as a contributor on the TV3 news bulletin on St Stephen’s Day which announced that Mr Lenihan had a specific form of cancer.

“TV3 contacted me on December 26th to tell me that they were going to report that a politician had been diagnosed with cancer and asked if I would be free to comment.

“I told them that I would not comment on the illness of any individual, but might consider doing an information piece about the type of cancer in question,” Prof Crown wrote in yesterday’s Sunday Independent .

He said that TV3 had later called him back to tell him Brian Lenihan had a particular form of cancer and he understood the Minister would be making a formal statement on the matter.

“I spoke in generalities, describing patients having disease which could either be ‘cured’ or ‘controlled’. I never mentioned the words ‘prognosis’ or ‘outlook’. I stressed the need to give up smoking, the single most important avoidable risk factor,” said Prof Crown.