Lenihan sees himself as main rival to Martin

 

BRIAN LENIHAN:MINISTER FOR Finance Brian Lenihan claims he has the support of a “large number” of Fianna Fáil TD in his bid for the leadership of the party.

Mr Lenihan described himself as the “strongest challenger” to Micheál Martin for the job but said he was confident from the indications of support he was getting that he could carry Wednesday’s electoral contest.

Formally announcing his candidacy for the job in a Dublin hotel yesterday, he said he was “more than up” to the demands of a gruelling general election campaign.

Mr Lenihan, who has pancreatic cancer, said his tumour had reduced substantially and his energy levels were greatly restored since the start of last year.

He added: “I am confident I have the energy and stamina to meet the physical and mental demands of the position of leader. I have recently been reassured by my medical advisers in that regard.”

Mr Lenihan (51) is being formally proposed by Wexford TD Seán Connick, who told the press conference that the Minister was a “man of courage and steely determination”.

Mr Lenihan said the economic downturn happened “before my watch”, but he admitted Fianna Fáil had made mistakes in managing the State’s affairs.

“We must acknowledge those mistakes and all of us must take responsibility for them. I have done my level best over the last 2½ years to put matters back on track.”

Mistakes were made because of Fianna Fáil’s reluctance to face up to difficulties and an anxiety to please various sectoral interests, he added.

As leader of Fianna Fáil, he would work with like-minded parties on a radical transformation of the political system. This would include a smaller Dáil, a smaller Seanad elected by the list system and a requirement that a minimum number of ministers be appointed from this reformed Seanad.

Mr Lenihan said he would also embark on a massive acceleration of public sector reform.

He also wanted to release the energies of young Fianna Fáil backbenchers and assist in a “generation shift” in the party.

He promised to “take the fight” to Fine Gael and Labour in any election campaign and said it was not in the national interest to have an opposition dominated by politicians who were “prisoners of rhetoric, but lacking any realistic solutions”.

The central issue in any general election campaign would be the “economic narrative”.

Mr Lenihan said he didn’t accept he was a liability simply because he had taken decisions in the common good.

The economy turned a corner economically in early 2010, had continued to stabilise since and was now “on the trackway back to growth”, he insisted.

He said it was not feasible or realistic to fast-track the Finance Bill through the Oireachtas this week, although he was open to talking to Fine Gael about the options.

There were huge logistical difficulties in the drafting and administration of the Bill and the time allotted to it had already been cut to four weeks.

BRIAN LENIHAN PROFILE

THE TD for Dublin West is one of the newest members of Cabinet but in his four years as a senior Minister, he has held two of the most senior portfolios – justice and finance.

A barrister by profession, Mr Lenihan (51) became a TD in 1996 after winning a byelection for the seat left vacant by the death of his father, also Brian Lenihan. His brother, Conor, is also a Fianna Fáil TD.

After a shaky start as Minister for Finance, he quickly mastered the brief and grew in confidence within a comparatively short period of time. He has presided over three austere budgets. However, his stock has fallen, partly because of his overconfident prediction for recovery, some of which failed to materialise, and the Government’s failure to prevent intervention by the EU and IMF.

Dublin West is changing from a three-seat to four-seat constituency, a change that is seen as improving Mr Lenihan’s chances.