June 10th, 2011
07:22 PM GMT
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Brian Lenihan, the former Irish finance minster for Fianna Fail who Friday died of pancreatic cancer aged 52, played a pivotal role in the country's bailout, following its near economic collapse.

It was Lenihan who fronted the 2008 legislation that guaranteed full repayment of loans lent to the banks by private creditors. The guarantee was designed to create confidence and fend off a run on the banks, which were under pressure due to investments in overheated property deals.

And it was Lenihan who took center stage in navigating the country through last year’s bailout by its eurozone peers and the International Monetary Fund, the result of the country’s financial meltdown.

The decision to guarantee the banking sector’s debt - which effectively shifted the burden of repaying the loans onto the taxpayers - proved disastrous because the banks, rather than being buoyed through a liquidity crisis, were soon revealed to be in the midst of a solvency crisis. The price of saving them eventually ballooned to up to EUR70 billion, a cost which fell on the taxpayer in part because of that guarantee.

Yet Lenihan, who had been fighting the cancer since December 2009, will be remembered as far more than the man who fronted Ireland’s worst economic disaster in recent history.

Shane Moynihan, a former Fianna Fail candidate who is currently completing a PhD in political science at Trinity College Dublin, recalls asking Lenihan to meet with party supporters at the college in 2004. He said Lenihan called personally to say he had a stomach bug and was very unwell, but he turned up anyway.

In the last 18 months of his life, as he was wracked by a terminal illness and Ireland’s economy collapsed around him, he showed the same commitment to public life.

Moynihan recalls him as a rare mix of “intelligence, integrity and inspiration.” He believes Lenihan thrived on the challenge of the job. Thus, continuing in such an extraordinarily challenging role while unwell was his way of living life to the full.

Even when diagnosed, there was little talk of a replacement finance minister.

Despite decisions that were revealed, with hindsight, to be flawed, Lenihan remained in favor with the electorate, winning his seat in Dublin West during last February’s elections despite the party’s complete drubbing.

According to Moynihan, Lenihan retained respect at grassroots level because his decisions were, ultimately, driven by what was best for the country.

Lenihan was a member of a political dynasty, with his father Brian, brother Conor and aunt Mary O’Rouke serving in Irish governments. He is survived by his wife and two children.

On Friday tributes flowed from all corners. Ollie Rehn, European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, said Lenihan "will always be held in the highest esteem by those who worked with him in Europe."

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said Lenihan “never once flinched from his public duties”, while Prime Minister Enda Kenny - leader of the rival Fine Gael party - has described Lenihan as "a decent man, a fine public representative and someone I was proud to know.”

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Name*Ciaran


    June 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  2. Ciaran

    Lenihan sold out the Irish state to the Germans. They are the only ones who profit from the existence of the euro through the undervaluing of their currency. Most other states have overvalued currencies because of the averaging system. His legacy to the Irish people (and what history will record), treachery. Never mind the crap that is being printed.

    June 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  3. NoelF

    A man I respected even if I despised his political affiliations. If there is anyting that his disatrous tenure as finance minister shows it's that the Irish habit of putting ministers in ministries which are clearly not their forte is ridiculous. A ministry for finance needs someone who is clued in to business and more importantly has a feel for finance and the economy.

    June 12, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  4. nayusiwrong

    The Bail out is more like selling Ireland to the crown of england why you thing the queen visited? to see her property. I am sure the irish are happy since they voted no for EU changes. Cant escape the new world order so easy.

    June 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  5. Victorianism

    The above article, above all, was a well-writen one, in particular considering its sole role is to pay tribute to a decent man. In this respect, I fully agree with the auther.But, I wish there is not any 'but', the reality of Irish financial situation is indeed very out of shape, which was exactly his exclusively prime duty.Oh-, how could I continue to type to a nationwidely beloved prime minister? Let others like Ciaran do it if they succeed in managing themselves to be that mean.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:52 pm |

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